Goodreads: Red Rising
Series: Red Rising #1
Darrow is a Red, a member of the lowest caste in the color-coded society of the future. Like his fellow Reds, he works all day, believing that he and his people are making the surface of Mars livable for future generations.
Yet he spends his life willingly, knowing that his blood and sweat will one day result in a better world for his children.
But Darrow and his kind have been betrayed. Soon he discovers that humanity already reached the surface generations ago. Vast cities and sprawling parks spread across the planet. Darrow—and Reds like him—are nothing more than slaves to a decadent ruling class.
Inspired by a longing for justice, and driven by the memory of lost love, Darrow sacrifices everything to infiltrate the legendary Institute, a proving ground for the dominant Gold caste, where the next generation of humanity’s overlords struggle for power. He will be forced to compete for his life and the very future of civilization against the best and most brutal of Society’s ruling class. There, he will stop at nothing to bring down his enemies… even if it means he has to become one of them to do so.
“I would have lived in peace. But my enemies brought me war.”
Though the words “YA dystopian” now conjure up images of a washed-out fad, I believe that the strongest novels of the genre still have power to move and entertain even those readers who have read dozens of dystopians in the past several years. Red Rising is one of those special books. With compelling prose and an immersive plot that brings to mind elements of The Hunger Games, Lord of the Flies, and An Ember in the Ashes, Red Rising brings readers on Darrow’s powerful journey to discover the truth and free his people from slavery.
Part of Red Rising’s enthrallment lies in its detailed world building. The story begins in the mines of Mars, where Reds like Darrow are forced to dig for resources that can help terraform previously uninhabitable planets. The descriptions of the mines are rich, and Brown emphasizes the Red focus on family and community, song and dance, even when times are tough. He creates culture in addition to scenery. The book moves on, however, to places very foreign to the mines, unimaginable to the people Darrow knows, and here, too, the descriptions are detailed and enthralling. Brown can describe glamour as well as grit.
In his quest to break the social hierarchy that forces Reds to the bottom, Darrow moves quickly through a new world to learn how to conquer it. The plot rarely lags, and there’s a good mix of action and reflection. I won’t say that some parts are not predictable, particularly the catalyst that starts Darrow on his journey. However, much of the plot is truly surprising, and it is delightful to read the new turns the story takes (even when those turns are, in fact, quite gory or appalling).
Darrow himself can be a bit of a jerk, and the fact that the novel is in first person emphasizes this. If Brown wants to inform the reader that Darrow is handsome or talented or has done something unprecedented, Darrow himself has to be the one to say it. Nonetheless, Darrow never walks over the edge of his arrogance to become unlikable, and, frankly, his drive and his conceit are realistic. It does take a special type of person to overcome the status quo, someone skilled and confident enough to wield that skill. Darrow makes sense as the protagonist of this novel in a way a gentler or more modest character might not, and the novel itself tackles this problem, asking what kind of people are dreamers or martyrs or doers. The doers here do not kid themselves that sometimes they have to make tough choices. Whether the decisions they make or the means they use are the right ones is left up to the reader.
Red Rising is a beautifully complex work that tackles questions about human nature and civilization, even as it takes readers on a wild ride through the many layers of the hierarchical society. The story is action-packed, but it also has its pools of thoughtfulness and stillness. YA readers will love this, even if they think they’ve read enough YA dystopians to last a lifetime.