Red Rising (Red Rising Trilogy #1) by Pierce Brown
Genre: Adult science fiction
Publisher: Del Rey Books
Release date: January 28 2014
Source: ARC from San Diego Comic Con & e-ARC via NetGalley
The nitty-gritty: This book has it all: kick-ass action, mind-blowing world building, characters with depth, tear-inducing emotional moments, oh god just GET THIS BOOK AND READ IT RIGHT NOW!!!
On Mars there is not much gravity, so you have to pull the feet to break the neck. They let the loved ones do it.
Soon, there is no sound, not even the creaking of the rope.
My wife is too light.
She was only just a girl.
Then the thumping of the Fading Dirge begins. Fists on chests. Thousands. Fast, like a racing heartbeat. Slower. A beat a second. A beat every five. Every ten. Then never again, and the mournful mass fades away like dust held in the palm as the old tunnels wail with deep winds.
And the Golds, they fly away.
So I could just cut out 900 or so words from this review and reiterate what I said above. Simply put, this is my favorite book of the year so far. I’ve had this sitting in a pile of books since last July. July, people!! It sat there gathering dust as I read other, less worthy books. I told myself I might read it at some point, but since it wasn’t a review book, I may not have time to get to it. Then I saw it on NetGalley and requested it, thinking that a NetGalley approval might light a fire under my ass and get me to read it. And that worked. I read it, THANK GOD. Mr. Brown is quite the writer, and at the tender age of twenty-five he’s got a hell of a career ahead of him.
You may have heard about the comparisons this book is garnering, most notably to The Hunger Games and A Game of Thrones. I can’t vouch for the latter comparison, because I may be the only person on the planet who hasn’t read A Game of Thrones (or watched the TV show for that matter), but yes, there are similarities to The Hunger Games. I was also reminded of The Matrix and The Six Million Dollar Man while reading Red Rising. But you should not let these comparisons color your opinion of the story before you read it. Comparisons are simply handy tools that publishers use to entice a certain audience. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t. Pierce Brown may have incorporated some of these ideas, but he’s done so in a completely unique way, and the end product is like nothing I’ve read before.
I really don’t want to give too much of the story away, but here’s a quick synopsis: Darrow is a sixteen-year old boy who is a Helldiver, someone who mines the deep tunnels of Mars to find helium-3, a precious substance that is necessary in order to terraform Mars, whose surface is uninhabitable. He’s also a Red, the lowest color in an intricately devised social system. His entire life he’s been told that his job is a noble one, and that the hardships he and his family endure are for the greater good.
But one day Darrow discovers something terrible: the hardscrabble life he and his friends and family have been living down in the tunnels is all a lie. Mars has already been terraformed and is being ruled by the Golds, who have been enslaving Reds for hundreds of years. After several twists of fate, Darrow finds himself removed from the tunnels by a resistance group who wants to use him to topple the Golds from their lofty perch. But first Darrow will have to convince everyone that he’s a Gold himself. What follows is a series of tests to see just how convincing he can be.
Wow, where do I start? The first thing you should know about Red Rising is that there is a fair amount of graphic violence in its pages. Some of the most horrific passages occur not while the students are doing battle with each other, but before Darrow even gets to the command school. In order for him to become a weapon to take down the society, he must be transformed into a Gold, and when I say transformed, I’m not talking about magic. I’m talking about surgery. Lots of it, graphically described. (This is where my Six Million Dollar Man comparison comes in.) It also reminded me of another favorite book of mine, The Scar by China Miéville, where a character undergoes surgery that will give him gills so that he can live underwater. Just think about that for a moment, and you’ll have an idea of what’s in store for Darrow.
But violence aside, Red Rising has a surprising amount of humor and emotion in it as well. Darrow’s love for his wife Eo is a constant thread that pulls us through the book and ultimately keeps him going, even as his life is falling apart. Some passages even brought tears to my eyes. I grew to love so many of the characters in this book, and since not everyone makes it out alive, well, yes, I cried. Damn you Mr. Brown! You made me cry with your gorgeous prose and your heartfelt emotional moments and your lovably flawed characters.
And the humor, it came just at the right times, just when you think everything’s headed to hell, the author lightens the mood and throws in dialog like this:
Sevro shrugs. “We’ll take Minerva’s standard.”
“W-wait,” Cassius says. “You know how to do that?”
Sevro snorts. “What do you think I’ve been doing this whole time, you silky turd? Wanking off in the bushes?”
Cassius and I look at each other.
“Kind of,” I say.
“Yeah, actually,” Cassius agrees.
I’m also happy to have stumbled upon the Red Rising website, because it gives readers a chance to delve into the fantastic world that Brown has created, in an interactive way. The best thing I found there was this wonderful graphic that shows the hierarchy of the society:
Each piece of the pyramid is the symbol for a particular color. I encourage you to visit the site and learn more about it here. You can also figure out which color best describes you and download the symbol here.
Honestly, I could go on and on (and on and on…) about Red Rising, but wouldn’t you rather be reading the actual book yourself? If you love great storytelling, finely nuanced characters, and writing that pierces your heart and makes it bleed, then please don’t let this one slip past you.
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy. Above quotes were taken from an uncorrected proof, and may differ in the finished book.
Find Red Rising here: