Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Red Rising by Pierce Brown

Pierce Brown's Red Rising is a little like Ender's Game in that it involves children's brutal training for war. It's also like the Percy Jackson series in its obsession with Greek and Roman myth and history. It's also like The Hunger Games in that it pits children against each other in deadly games and it's like Game of Thrones with its rivalries between powerful families and it's like Scott Westerfeld's Uglies series in its exploration of power and body modification. If someone accused Pierce Brown and his publisher of trying to capitalize on every trend in YA fiction this side of wizards and werewolves, you might just have to concede the point.

Yet, while the book is somewhat like all of these other books and is a bit jumbled as a result, it's not exactly like any of them. After a somewhat rough opening, the novel settles in and ultimately works better than expected. It also sets up a series that promises to be intriguing.

Darrow is a Red, the lowest caste in his societies strict hierarchy of colors. He works as a Helldiver on Mars. It's his job, with the support of his all Red subterranean clan, Lykos, to operate a drill that will mine helium-3 from beneath Mars surface. The energy provided by this substance, the clans are told, is necessary to help prepare Mars for terraforming so that the higher colors can leave the ruined planet Earth and settle there. The ruling Golds manipulate the mining clans on Mars, pitting them against each other and withholding food and supplies, demanding higher and higher productivity. If this weren't enough, when Darrow and his young wife, Eo, wander away from Lykos and toward the surface they discover that the higher colors have been lying to them and that Mars is already being populated with humans.

When the Gold's discover Darrow and Eo's transgression, Eo is publicly executed. In the aftermath, Darrow's rage is harnessed by a rebel group called the Sons of Ares. The Sons of Ares modify Darrow's body and train him so he can pass as a Gold, giving him a new identity and enrolling him in a school for elite Gold's who will one day become military commanders. Hungry for vengeance, Darrow complies but once at the school he learns just how brutal the Gold's can be, even to their own color.

Brown definitely bites off too much in this first novel. The book suggests a richly imagined future but, because it's flying by so fast, the reader only gets fleeting glimpses of it. Brown doesn't take the time to properly establish rather important details, like a real relationship between Darrow and Eo, which has repercussions throughout the book. Still, once Darrow goes undercover with the Gold's the story gains focus and readers won't be able to help rooting for the former Red as he questions his mission, submits himself to indignities, makes friends, loses friends and fights one epic battle after another.

Red Rising ultimately shows Darrow growing beyond his desire for vengeance or even his commitment to the rebellion. Darrow finds himself committed only to what is good and right and in this he grows as both a leader and a human being.

I'll be looking forward to Darrow's return.

The publisher provided a time-limited advance eBook copy for this review.


Liviania said...

I really enjoyed this one, but you're right that the world doesn't get as much time to develop as it needs.

mr chompchomp said...

Thanks for the comment Livania. The book and series represent a pretty ambitious undertaking.

aquafortis said...

I'm reading it now - it's a really intriguing premise, but you're right about the world-building. It also (so far, anyway) seems to skim over character depth a bit. Ambitious, though. Very Brave New World...r