Book review: Red Rising by Pierce Brown

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“I would have lived in peace. But my enemies brought me war.” 

At only sixteen years old, Darrow is happily married to Eo, the love of his life. As a Red, in the lowest class of Mars society, he spends his days mining helium-3 in an attempt to make the surface livable for future generations. His will be a short and dangerous life, but he knows it’s worth it… until Eo discovers that everything has been a lie. The surface is not uninhabitable, as they’ve been told their entire lives. It’s fully developed, run by the cruel and powerful Golds. With Eo’s inspiration and his uncle’s help, Darrow joins a mysterious organization with the aim of bringing down Gold society, which is crueler and more complex than he could have ever imagined.

Going into this book, I didn’t know what to think. I hadn’t read the summary. I hadn’t read any reviews. I just knew that it had been getting a lot of attention, and it had won in this year’s Goodreads Choice Awards. Even my boyfriend, who is notoriously picky about his books, told me this book was “really good.” So I borrowed his copy, and let me tell you, I had a difficult time putting it down.

The world of Red Rising is so intricately built that it does take some time to put everything together. At the beginning, you learn that there are Reds and Golds, but that’s not all. Later, we learn that there are a number of castes – Pinks, Coppers, Obsidians, Grays, Violets, Yellows, and more. They all have their roles in society. They all prop up the Golds in different ways. There can even be multiple levels within a Color. The Golds have their Peerless Scarred, and the Reds can be High or Low. I’ll admit that there is a lot to remember, but I never found it confusing. I’m more impressed at the extent of this world than anything else.

My favorite part may have been the characters. Darrow, the hero, propelled to new heights by his anger at what was done to his wife, and his desire to live out her dream. Eo, a visionary, who deserved better than the life she was born into. Harmony, Dancer, and Mickey, who work to transform Darrow from Red to Gold. Cassius, the first Gold friend Darrow makes. Pax, who is so much more than he initially seems. Roque, Sevro, Mustang… I could go on and on about these characters. I felt something for every one of them, whether it was love, hate, amusement, anger, or sorrow. There are no throwaway characters here. Everyone was well-developed. Everyone had their part to play.

When I realized where the book was going, I was afraid that it was going to be another Hunger Games or Divergent. I had seen Darrow compared to Katniss on more than one occasion, and while I loved her story, I didn’t need to see it rehashed with a male lead. Fortunately, aside from the general gist of the plot – children fighting to get ahead in an obviously unequal society – there is really no comparison. The plot of Red Rising has all the pillars of a typical dystopian story: a member of a low class realizes that life is unfair and fights to equalize society, making friends and enemies along the way. The thing that makes Red Rising different is its execution. I’ve never seen a dystopian novel, particularly one marketed for young adults, that is quite this cruel, or quite this heartrending. Pierce Brown has no qualms with killing off favorite characters and throwing in enormous plot twists. I won’t spoil the ending, but I will tell you that I was yelling at Darrow for his (admittedly politically sound) decisions.

Finally, the writing. It’s hard to believe that this was Brown’s debut novel. It’s also hard to believe that we’re almost the same age. The writing flows beautifully, from the dialogue to Darrow’s inner thoughts. Of all the books I’ve read this year, this one is definitely at the top of the list when it comes to writing style.

I was surprised and impressed by this book. Initially, I had given it four stars. Writing this review, I can’t think of any reason why I should give it less than five.

Final rating: ★★★★★