Book Review: Red Rising

Written by: Pierce Brown
Series: Red Rising Sage
Sequence in Series: 1
Paperback: 400
Publisher: Del Rey
Publication Date: July 15, 2014 (first published January 28, 2014)
ISBN: 034553980X
ISBN-13: 978-0345539809
Genre: Dystopian Sci-Fi


The Earth is dying.
Darrow is a Red, a miner in the interior of Mars. His mission is to extract enough precious elements to one day tame the surface of the planet and allow humans to live on it.
The Reds are humanity’s last hope.

Or so it appears, until the day Darrow discovers it’s all a lie.

That Mars has been habitable – and inhabited – for generations, by a class of people calling themselves the Golds.
A class of people who look down on Darrow and his fellows as slave labour, to be exploited and worked to death without a second thought. Until the day that Darrow, with the help of a mysterious group of rebels, disguises himself as a Gold and infiltrates their command school, intent on taking down his oppressors from the inside.

But the command school is a battlefield – and Darrow isn’t the only student with an agenda.

Break the chains.

Live for more.

Pierce Brown’s debut novel Red Rising is a bit of an anomaly for me – I am entirely on the fence about this one. I cannot seem to decide if I like the book despite its flaws or hate the book despite the intrigue. Let me be utterly honest, I devoured this book and then did a double take of wtf was that? The book and its writing style is dense and wordy – reminiscent of traditional fantasy novels. Those are my bread and butter for reading and so I adjusted quickly to the prose styling, finding it an easy read.

The plot is, at its heart, basic. The chosen one who can do all things no one else can with a kind of unrealistic perfection but in a dystopian world. Everything about the plot and the world was…familiar. It felt as though Brown took the best bits from all the most popular young adult novels that have come out over the last decade and melded it into something vaguely new. Vaguely. For example, there’s the ever so recently popular in video games battle royale-there-can-be-only-one children become adults newly developed trope. There is a world divided by cast based on function and identified by color. There’s the hero prompted to action by the death of a loved one. There’s the cast of characters introduced and killed off just as you start to root for them. Or figure out why they might be important. The main character becomes super endowed through technology downloads. Otherwise, the plot reads like a Communist propaganda program. We are the oppressed fighting against the oppressed, rightly and righteously so.  However, there is so much intrigue that I was guessing at almost every turn who might betray the main character. Enough that I was sucked into the story just the same.

Let’s talk characters. There are a lot of them, also reminiscent of traditional fantasy novels. The main character is Darrow. Darrow’s character and development are so subtle I question whether it’s really happening. He’s the perfect every man and all his enhancements to his physical enhancements are illegally gotten through medicine and science. Yet it is his innate capabilities which prevail in all situations and it is this which make him an unrelatable character, despite the flaws and character growths. The burden of the intrinsically capable chosen one. The other characters seem much more layered, save Darrow’s wife whose purpose is quickly served. They and their foibles are therefore much more intriguing and their deaths, or successes, much more personal feeling.

The world building is…ultimately disappointing. It is involved enough in the future that it proports that you have to work for your understanding of what is what. I appreciate not being spoon fed the world that surrounds the characters, being able to infer meaning based on the surrounding descriptions. Except that Brown seems overly found of randomly capitalizing words and making them mean things where they don’t have to, overcomplicating things. When in reality things in the world are not overly complicated at all. There’s a hierarchy of oppression and the setting is on Mars but the majority of the setting at the school feels very much like Earth. I think this is a lost opportunity.

In fact, I think that about sums up how I feel about the book in general. So much potential, so many seeds of good ideas – so much lost opportunity. I was not…surprised by any of the things which actually occurred in the book.

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