The first contemporary dystopian series that didn’t make me cringe!
In fact, I think I might soon join the Red Rising fandom
By Pierce Brown
Published by Del Rey
I discovered Red Rising, the first book of the Red Rising series, the same way I discover most books nowadays: Google Play Books suggestions. I read the synopsis, and it reminded me of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and of various contemporary, young adult dystopian novels. Don’t get me wrong, YA dystopian books are very hit-or-miss, and it seems to be hard to come up with something new in this genre despite what would seem near infinite possibilities. I digress.
The teaser blurb had me interested enough, and I had a $5-off coupon, so I decided that that was good enough for me.
It turns out Red Rising was well-written, original, and not too cliche. To my delight, the book doesn’t seem to be written mainly for a YA audience, despite the popularity of the dystopian YA genre. There’s a fair amount of violence and cursing, so I wouldn’t actually classify this as YA anyway. To put things on some sort of scale, the prose and story complexity far exceeds The Hunger Games, but it is definitely less sophisticated than A Song of Ice and Fire.
The setting is the somewhat distant future in the Milky Way. Humans have, predictably, let global warming get bad enough that we got the heck off of Earth and began to colonize other local planets and moons.
Though the story is heavily plot-driven, the characters and their relationships are complex, and Brown spends a sufficient amount of time and dialogue to fully develop them.
I sympathized with the main character, Darrow, right away. He’s a Red, society’s laboring lowest class. Darrow and his fellow Reds drill away in mines deep below the surface of Mars, collecting materials to help terraform Mars. They believe they work for the benefit humanity, which they think is trapped on a dying Earth waiting for the surface Mars to be habitable; if only things were that simple.
There’s a Hunger Games-esque feature of life for Reds. They are divided into clans based on the mines they drill in, and they compete for “The Laurel” which contains luxury items like blankets and food that isn’t gruel. I was worried that the story was going to be a copycat at this point, but I kept reading.
We quickly discover that the Reds are being fed lies by the Golds, the elite ruling class of humanity. I’ll keep the details of the lie and the truth obscure, because discovering the truth along with Darrow was one of the most enjoyable parts of this book. Let’s just say there’s more at play than terraforming planets, and it involves an entire galaxy of complex politics and class warfare.
Darrow is recruited by the Sons of Ares, an underground resistance group that rebels against the Golds and the class structure. Let’s just say they send him to the surface of Mars on a very special mission, which requires him to grow and change in extreme ways.
Darrow is a great character, and he reminded me of Ender Wiggin in Ender’s Game: a brilliant kid sucked out of his own world and subsumed into something bigger than he can possibly conceive of. There are even “Battle School”-esque trials that Darrow has to go through, which are both exciting and gruesome to read about.
In an above-the-surface world that’s practically alien to him, Darrow has to figure out who he can trust. He isn’t always as wise as I hoped (you know, for his own sake), but he is endearingly earnest, and often thinks with his heart. Darrow is betrayed so many times, and this made it dangerous to get attached to any character except him, though I enjoyed most of the other characters.
The class structure reminded me of the one presented in Brave New World, as members of the different castes, had genetics specifically suited to the labors and traits associated with their role in society. There are Reds, Violets, Obsidians, Blues, and other colors, and their eye and hair color often matches that of their class. Reds are small and meek with an average life-span of 40 years. Obsidians, the class of warriors, are typically ignorant and have large, muscular bodies. Golds are larger and stronger than most Obsidians and possess special cells that rejuvenate, allowing them to live unnaturally long lives.
I liked the first book so much that I immediately purchased the next two, Golden Son and Morning Star (coming from me, this is a huge sign of commitment). I was ecstatic that Iron Gold, the fourth book in the series, just came out this month. And there’s a fifth book due this September. I feel like a spoiled nerd.
I’m at the beginning of the third book, and very pleased so far. I binged through the first book in a day, the second book lagged a bit in the beginning and middle, but a lot happens in the second half, so stick with it!