Red Rising by Pierce Brown
(Review originally published on TFW’s sister blog, The Book Academy. September 2015.)
Darrow is a Helldiver of Lykos. As a colonist of Mars, he lives below the surface and mines the helium-3 that will be used to terraform the planet and make it habitable for future generations. He and his fellow colonists are Reds, the lowest caste in their society. Many are content to do their duty and make a better life for future generations. Darrow’s wife, Eo, is not. She sees the Reds as slaves and wants Darrow to fight for more…for freedom. Eo’s death is a catalyst for Darrow’s rebellion, but he is swept up into something much larger than he initially realizes. The Sons of Ares “recruit” him and show him that the planet has been terraformed for years. Most of the other colors (castes) live in freedom on the surface. The Reds are working a false mission based on a false promise. Darrow’s new mission is to infiltrate the Golds (the highest caste of society) and take them down from within. The first installment in the trilogy centers around Darrow’s time in the Academy where he must make a name for himself and get noticed by the powerful Golds. Can Darrow change himself and control his anger enough to fulfill his mission? Find out in Pierce Brown’s science fiction debut novel, Red Rising.
Seriously though: While Red Rising is action-packed and violent, the action and violence isn’t without purpose. All of it is there to illustrate what happens to people who are involved in a power struggle that is given the urgency of a life or death situation. Darrow and the other students at the academy are being tested in civilization building. Because of that, Red Rising could be used by a creative world history teacher to generate discussions about the rise and fall of empires, violence and its seeming necessity, rules of warfare, and the effect of power and violence on humans. The one thing that bothered me about the book is Darrow’s complete self-awareness. He is so analytical and introspective that readers are not left to make many inferences about the effects or consequences of characters’ actions. Darrow lays it all out in the narrative. That doesn’t, however, interfere with the book’s appeal, nor does it interrupt the flow of the narrative. I like Darrow and root for him even when he’s making mistakes. And there is still plenty of fuel for discussion about the past and current power struggles happening around the world.
On an entirely unrelated note, Mustang is one of the coolest, kick-ass female characters I’ve read. I’m looking forward to seeing how things play out for her as well as for Darrow.