Red Rising by Pierce Brown
Red Rising by Pierce Brown is a bloodydamn great book! It’s one of my favorite books of this year, and I’ve read my fair share of outstanding books so far. There’s a quote on the cover of my book that likens the protagonist, Darrow, to both Ender and Katniss. Can’t say much about Katniss, as I know her only from the movies and I wouldn’t call her anything remotely resembling a “genius” character there. But while being older, Darrow definitely resembles Ender with his ability to think outside the box and come up with solutions to even the hardest problems.
The book is about Darrow, a young Red slaving in the mines on mars. The Reds’ task is to make the planet habitable for future generations. But they have been betrayed. The surface is already populated and the Reds’ are slaves in all but name. Darrow gets changed and gets a spot in the legendary institute, where the Golds, the highest class, are educated. But it’s not an easy education and not everyone can survive.
I love dystopian tales about civilizations that oppress part of their population or something similar, so I might be a bit biased. The setting is great, even though class systems aren’t anything new in our world or in literary worlds. Darrow’s fight against the injustice done to him and the other Reds is something a reader can root for. You like to root for the clear underdog, don’t you? To see him prevail against horribly stacked odds, where he has next to no chance to win? That I like training sequences and seeing a character “grow up” isn’t something new, so it was definitely a book tailored for me. And the training sequence here isn’t what you think. It’s something different, something dangerous, something engaging.
Despite what you might think, this is not a YA book. It’ll definitely have a younger audience, but it’s a natural “adult” book too. More than both Ender’s Game and The Hunger Games. That gets established very early on. The prose and execution can definitely hold its own against any other book. I especially liked the contraction in the dialog and prose like “bloodydamn”. Might be my german heritage coming through, as contractions are very common here, but I find it good to see Sci Fi books that actually change the language in natural ways, as language is something constantly changing and having the same/a very similar language hundreds of years in the future doesn’t seem very plausible.
But both the execution and the setting pales before the protagonist. Darrow has easily become one of my favorite characters. I have a sweet spot for genius character and he definitely is one. Not as oppressing as Ender maybe, but as successful. Darrow easily finds his way in a society of Golds, enhanced humans all of them, and with a bit of practice towers over them all. One thing I really liked was Darrow’s dexterity with his fingers, coming from the work he did in the mines. To me, it was a great detail that showed some shades of the protagonist’s character perfectly. He and the few friends he find are unique and just a bit crazy all over the board. It’s no wonder with the things they have to go through. An interesting part of the book is that the main characters definitely aren’t safe. Death is something common in the Institute and there is no unseen invincibility on the characters. It doesn’t get as far as ASoIaF, but there’s still room for that in Golden Son, the next book.
The plot is the second great thing in this book. It’s fast, cruel, with the sides always changing and danger everywhere. A single wrong word can reveal Darrow’s upbringing and doom him and his mission. There’s tension everywhere and conflict the very slogan of the Institute. The plot and setting both are believable and Darrow’s decisions in his fight are realistic and, well, genius at times. I don’t want to tell you too much, but the ending is just “Yes!”. It’s the thing you want, you need, after following Darrow through hell. You can’t help but feel, but root for him. From the very beginning to the very end. And it’s one hell of an end. It makes my mouth water for the next book, which will be out January 2015, so not that long a wait for us.
While I absolutely love the cover, the map is something I suggest you don’t look at before reading the book. It’s kinda spoilery, at least for the first half of the book. The map is definitely well done and can serve as a great visual assist. I found myself thumbing back to the map occasionally, and it’s useful to keep track of where the characters actually are, but I’d have preferred not to know what was on the map until the characters have actually discovered it.
Concluding: It’s a definite recommendation from me. If you haven’t read it yet, go buy it. It’s one of the best books I’ve read this year and the rest of the series is something I’m eagerly awaiting. The protagonist is a young man who will pull you into his orbit and make you root for him, his fate something you can agonize over. The plot takes you with it on a fast ride through hell and I wouldn’t be surprise if you find yourself unable to put the book down.