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I love it. I hate it.
on July 18, 2014
Just the other day, I was telling my daughter that I don’t like trilogies, but they seem to find me. Red Rising found me.
A debut novel and the first book in a trilogy, Red Rising by Pierce Brown is a science fiction dystopian novel set on terraformed Mars. Dystopian novels abound and some people are getting tired of them, but I love them.
Brown’s book has been compared to Hunger Games, The Lord of the Flies, and Ender’s Game. I agree with the comparisons. As you might have guessed, the novel isn’t wildly unique—it borrows from everywhere, including Roman mythology. However, I did enjoy the book and put aside another book I was having trouble finishing to read it. The borrowing doesn’t bother me; after all, Shakespeare borrowed extensively.
It’s also been called dazzling, which I don’t agree with. The book is violent, brutal, graphic, and needs a shot of feminist sensibility. It also reflects our world in disturbing ways while reflecting on the complexity of individuals within society.
Mars is divided into classes with color designations: Golds are the rich, powerful rulers, above everyone, and Reds are the lowest dregs in this cast system, lower than the Grays, Coppers, and Pinks.
Darrow, the sixteen-year-old protagonist, is a red “Helldiver,” living underground. He discovers Reds have been lied to and that Mars is inhabitable and has been for generations. After his wife is killed by a Gold, he joins a group of revolutionaries and is transformed, like Pygmalion/My Fair Lady, into a Gold. He infiltrates a prestigious school for the elite. His goal is to take down the unequal society and overthrow the Golds.
Okay for some honesty, I have a love/hate relationship with this book. I cannot recommend it without some caveats. Before I get to the negatives and positives. Here are some general observations:
•It starts slow, which I didn’t mind too much, but the story didn’t grab me right away.
•Once Darrow leaves the underground, things get interesting fast and the pace never slows; it becomes a hard to put down book.
•Mars’ society reflect our world so much that it’s impossible not to make comparisons. There is a complexity in the novel that makes this an interesting aspect and invites introspection. The complexity begins to breakdown the pure good vs pure evil dichotomy in Darrow’s mind and that might have dominated the novel.
Things I Like:
1.Writing: The writing is excellent. I expect good things from future books by Brown.
2.Mars: The world building and the plotting were shiny—it’s a tightly woven, gritty story with an easy to understand world system.
3.Vendetta: There’s lots of revenge. Since I feel rather powerless to right the wrongs of the world, I like stories with revenge and a hero who plunges forward to make things right.
4.Multifaceted: Once Darrow enters into the world of the Golds, things become more complicated. He likes and understands some of his fellow students, yet knows he may have to kill them.
5.Point of View: His first person narrative is honest and pulls me into his story and makes me care about him, but there are some problems with his character (see below).
6.World: Brown creates a brutal Machiavellian world that is detailed, from the variances in life, language, education, and power. By the end of the story, you know that one language slip on Darrow’s part may be his future downfall because at least one person heard.
Don’t let the comparison to Hunger Games fool you. This is a fast paced, extraordinarily violent book, and makes Hunger Games seem like kindergarten violence.
I liked the story and was caught up in the fast, tightly pace story, but . . . I have some concerns.
Things I Didn’t Like:
1.Less Than Complex: Several reviews claim that the characterization in Red Rising is more complex and developed than the characterization in Hunger Games. I disagree. Katiness is a reluctant hero and the complexity of her character is at once subtle and nuanced. Other Hunger Games characters are well developed and multifaceted. Our hero Darrow is about revenge, with an occasional insight. He gives himself over to violence, revenge, and hatred with little subtlety and passing insights.
2.Perfect Hero: He is also maddeningly perfect. He, a Red the lowest of the low and not educated in Gold culture, has the top scores on his test and bests all the Golds; he immediately becomes a leader; he steps into his role as a Golds with few slip ups; he’s physically strong and out fights everyone; he outwits everyone; he’s the only one who protects the helpless. He’s the old fashion Dudley Do-Right turned Spartan-Rambo, a bigger than life, perfect hero, who rescues everyone. Really?
3.Supporting Roles: The other characters, with a few exceptions, are cardboard figures with little distinguishing features to set them apart. They are secondary to and play supporting roles to Darrow. Throughout the story these “future leaders” of society acquiesce to Darrow’s leadership.
4.Sexual Violence and Rape: This is the area I find most revolting. My problem is not that there is sexual violence and rape in the story, but that everyone except Darrow accepts and ignores it. I find it unbelievable that female characters and male characters would stand for this. With all the violence and fighting, other students would fight back. After all, they are Golds and see themselves as above all others and privileged. Would they allow other Golds to be raped with impunity? Even the adult proctors don’t do a damn thing and some of the students are their sons and daughters. Only our hero has the moral fiber to take action. Really?
5.Female characters: Even Mustang, who says she hates weak females who have to be rescued, willingly gives up being a leader to follow Darrow. In the beginning of the novel, his young wife sacrifices herself so he will become a hero. I found this particularly difficult to swallow—almost a deal breaker. Although there are female proctors, none of the student leaders are female. Yet they are supposedly given an equal place among the men, yet all the females are easily overcome.
6.Violence: The violence is sometimes excessive. As an adult, I shrugged this off; however, I would recommend this book to older young adult readers. Parents should read it first to see what they are handing their teenager.
Although I have some major issues with the book, I liked it. I got caught up in the story and finished rather quickly, which probably reflects that I too am susceptible to and influenced by societal attitude that violence, sexual violence, rape, and second-class treatment of women is normal.
I think that the love/hate problems I have with this book reflect the deep seeded influence of my culture. I want things to be better in fiction. I harbor a hope that future societies will be more advanced.
When it comes to plot, quality of the writing, world building, conflict and action, I’d give Red Rising a 4; however, when it come to character development, the portrayal of women, and sexual violence, I’d give the book a 2. So my 3 star rating reflects the love/hate relationship I have with the book.