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Red Rising Hardcover – January 28, 2014
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An Amazon Best Book of the Month, February 2014: Look beyond the inevitable comparison to The Hunger Games--Red Rising is the first book of a gritty, complex trilogy that blazes its own trail. On desolate Mars, the protagonist, Darrow, is caught in a class system that thrives on oppression and secrecy. He is a Red, the lowest member of society, born to toil in the bowels of the planet in service to the sovereign Golds. When Darrow suffers a devastating loss and betrayal he becomes a revolutionary, taking on a dangerous role in an attempt to bring about social justice. Questions of fate, duality, and loyalty, evolve in a cruel test of war between the sons and daughters of the ruling elite. By turns brutal and heartfelt, Red Rising is nonstop action with surprising twists and unforgettable characters. --Seira Wilson
A lot happens in this first installment of a projected trilogy. Darrow, living in a mining colony on Mars, sees his wife executed by the government, nearly dies himself, is rescued by the underground revolutionary group known as Sons of Ares, learns his government has been lying to him (and to everybody else), and is recruited to infiltrate the inner circle of society and help to bring it down from within—and that’s all inside the first 100 pages. This is a very ambitious novel, with a fully realized society (class structure is organized by color: Darrow is a Red, a worker, a member of the lower class) and a cast of well-drawn characters. Although it should appeal to all age groups, there is a definite YA hook: despite being a veteran miner and a married man, Darrow is 16 when the novel begins. If told well, stories of oppression and rebellion have a built-in audience, and this one is told very well indeed. A natural for Hunger Games fans of all ages. --David Pitt
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Series general review: Recommended. First book is the strongest, a more gut wrenching, better written version of the Hunger Games. Books 2-3 are OK. The sequels are dragged down by: 1) Time lapse/gap between books. 2) Poor characterization.
Book 1: 5, Book 2: 4, Book 3: 3
Book 1: 5 Stars
Overview: Red Rising follows Darrow. A young slave born into a mine working family. After suffering loss and hardship he must make a choice: continue on as before? end his life? or strike back at the oppressors? What follows is basically GATTICA and The Hunger Games. On Steroids.
+ Overarching themes. A back and forth look at the human spirit, what drives people, and what people are willing to overcome.
+ Awesome world. The author does a great job building a plausible universe. It is detailed and interesting. While certain sci-fi elements don't pass the logic test, it is an enjoyable universe.
+ Does a good job with keeping the protagonist 'human'. No infallible/invincible characters here.
+ An exciting read. Hard to put down
+/- Most stories pull you into following a person, this story pulled me into following a movement, an idea of change. I did not particularly like Darrow, but that didn't take away from the story.
+/- Bloody. Themes include slavery/rape/torture/cannibalism.
- Written POV. Best described as First Person masquerading as Third Person Limited. We are basically watching a story unfold with limited information into Darrow's mind... but the story is filled with: 'I did...'.
- Relatively poor characterization. Most characters are stereotypical with limited growth. The characters that do show changes are recycled: as the series goes on, the same 'growth' is applied to 3-4 other characters.
"Red Rising" has done it. Pierce Brown's 2014 novel is so good that it transcends genres (or maybe straddles is a better term), while honoring what's come before. I've seen it compared to "Hunger Games" to "Game of Thrones," but there's also a solid dose of Harry Potter Percy Jackson, and Ender Wiggins in it. Despite all of those comparisons, and despite the teenaged protagonist, this feels like a much more mature book than any of those Young Adult novels. It's not classified as YA in the library I picked it up from, and the review I first read in Entertainment Weekly that got me excited to read the book also treated it as an adult science fiction novel.
The story isn't necessarily new -- a teenager from the underclasses on Mars, living in caverns hollowed out of the rock. These "Reds" have been told they slave in mines to supply the materials needed to terraform the surface. Our hero Darrow ends up leaving the mines and on Mars' surface, which is not only already terraformed, but has cities sparkling like jewels, ruled by "Golds." There are many colors, each with specialized roles in human society, but Reds and Golds are the ones we hear about most. Darrow is lifted up by strange benefactors who transform him from a Red into a Gold. He's placed as a mole in a series of war games that will culminate in the winners being taken as apprentices by the most powerful houses on Mars. Darrow's entire purpose becomes overthrowing the system that's destroying his friends and family--but first he needs to win the war game that he and dozens of other teenagers are thrown into.
Most of the elements of "Red Rising" are familiar. Students are grouped into houses (Mars, Apollo, Venus, Minerva, Ceres etc.), who can provide them with advanced tools and weapons to help them advance in the game. Many of the battles, even though it's described as a war game, are to the death. The game goes on for several months, giving Darrow and the other students time to figure out tactics, overall strategies, and form relationships and loyalties in the ranks. Darrow is a more complex character than some of the other heroes and heroines of dystopian dramas. Pierce Brown gives him a fiery need for justice that outpaces his initial need for revenge. He's smart, but not the smartest in the group; he's strong, but not the strongest. He's propelled by his own will, in a society where most of the people are puppets.
Pierce Brown is a master at "world building" -- giving us details of what life is like on Mars. There's a map of the terraformed Mars in the endpapers, and I'm a sucker for a map of a fictional world. Westeros, Narnia, Middle Earth--they all hooked me with their maps. Brown's Mars is intriguing and exciting. The sights, the scents, the genetically modified people and animals. I've been fascinated by Mars since I was a pup, and this new vision of the red planet hooked me immediately. There are some books that immerse you so completely in their world that after you finish a chapter, you look up around you and are startled that you're still in the real world. "Red Rising" is one of those books. I hate making this comparison again, but if you're a fan of "Hunger Games," and you're ready to up your own game, check out "Red Rising."