Monday, January 12, 2015

Review: Red Rising by Pierce Brown

Title:  Red Rising
Author: Pierce Brown

Information on the Series:  First in a planned trilogy

Audience: Adult, with YA Crossover

Rating: (on a scale from 1-5 with 5 being the highest)  4

TL;DR:  A tale set in a bleak future society torn by class divisions follows the experiences of secret revolutionary Darrow, who after witnessing his wife's execution by an oppressive government, joins a revolutionary cell and attempts to infiltrate an elite military academy.

Longer Review:  Pierce Brown’s debut novel Red Rising has drawn comparisons to The Hunger Games and Game of Thrones.  Full disclosure, I read The Hunger Games trilogy and thought it was okay, and I never finished Game of Thrones.  After reading the book I can see similar themes and story elements in Red Rising, but I feel that the book stands on its own merits. 

Brown has created a richly detailed fantasy world that takes place in a dystopian future, on Mars.  There is a distinctive class system, based upon colors.  Darrow is a Red, the lowest class on Mars.  The twist is that Darrow doesn’t actually live on Mars, he lives in Mars.  Reds are miners, they were sent to Mars to work below the surface in an attempt to make the planet habitable for humans because Earth is dying.  This process has been going on for generations.  The majority of Reds have been kept in the dark about the fact that there is a thriving community on the surface, they still believe that what they are doing is important for the future of colonization on Mars.  The life expectancy of a Red is very short due to the dangerous nature of their jobs. As a result, Reds marry quite young.  Darrow, and his wife Eo, are teenagers, 15 or 16 years old. Through a series of events, including the execution of his wife, Darrow ends up living on the surface with a rebel organization called the Sons of Ares. This organization is determined to bring down the elite Gold ruling class by any means necessary.  Darrow is reinvented and gains admission to the Institute, an elite military academy where the Gold families send their teenagers. 

Far from a posh school where students are pampered, the Institute is brutal.  Essentially every child at the academy is fighting to survive.  In order to do so they must create alliances, betray friends, commit unspeakable acts, including killing the other students.  While this is similar to The Hunger Games, it seemed more violent.  Everything that happens at the school is manipulated by the Gold ruling elite.  Politics play a huge role, and power can change in the blink of an eye.  It will take every ounce of strength and wit for Darrow to survive. If his subterfuge is discovered, he will be killed immediately.  Even if he isn't discovered his life is constantly in danger.  Red Rising walks a fine line between YA and Adult.  While the main protagonist (and antagonists) are teenagers, what happens in the book, in terms of violence and political intrigue, is decidedly adult. 

Darrow is a sympathetic hero initially, as the book progresses and he has to make difficult decisions, he becomes less likeable. He has to survive the academy in order to infiltrate the upper echelon of the Gold class.  Along the way he loses pieces of himself and at times even he is shocked and disgusted by his behavior.  The Darrow we meet at the beginning of the book is very different from the Darrow at the end of the book, but I found myself still rooting for him to survive and succeed.  The story starts slow and the transformation of Darrow before he enters the Institute drags on a little bit too long.  Once he enters the school the story moves at a much faster pace.  If you haven’t read Red Rising yet, you are in luck.  Golden Son, the second book of the trilogy was released in January.  You won’t have to wait a year, like I did, to find out what happens after the conclusion of Red Rising.  Given the success of The Hunger Games movies, I’m sure it will come as no surprise that Red Rising has been optioned as a movie by Universal Studios. Whether the project moves beyond the “in development” stage remains to be seen. 

Why the 4-star rating?  As I said earlier, the beginning of the book is slow.  Brown also uses slight differences in language to differentiate between the classes.  At times that was confusing.  Additionally, there are so many characters introduced as the story progressed, I found it difficult to remember who was who, and why they were important. That being said, I can't wait to read Golden Son


Wool by Hugh Howey 

In a future toxic landscape, a community that lives in an underground silo is rocked by the desire of Sheriff Holston, who has upheld the group's rules for years, to go outside, setting in motion events that kindle the fire of revolution. Like Red Rising, the protagonists in this fast-paced, dystiopian science fiction book question the authoritarian government and find out that only through bloody rebellion can they achieve a better world.

Mind Storm by K.M. Ruiz 

Centuries after an apocalyptic nuclear war, the world's survivors compete for dwindling resources as the wealthy secretly plan to depart for another planet, while soldier-slave Threnody Corwin uses her super-powers to rise against a syndicate that is murdering her fellow psions. For those interested in bleak, gritty, far-future worlds where members of the oppressed underclasses challenge the ruling elite.  

Review by: Amy Muchmore, Carnegie-Stout Public Library

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