Red Rising by Pierce Brown is a book that on the surface sounds like it belongs in the genre that can be summed up as young-hero-takes-on-the-evil-establishment-and-wins, but that description will only apply before reading the book. A few chapters into Red Rising and I knew I was reading something completely original that takes the aforementioned genre and turns it upside down and then lifts it to new breath-taking heights. Our main character is named Darrow. He and his people are called the Reds, a class of people who are born and die beneath the surface of Mars, mining for natural resources that will prepare the way for future settlers from Earth. Even though Darrow’s whole life is one of hard dangerous work, he is content and happy with his family and circle of friends. Theirs is a noble existence, so they are told. They are sacrificing so that mankind might someday have a better home. Then unexpected events take place and Darrow’s life is drastically changed. He discovers that his people have been lied to for hundreds of years. They are actually slaves, giving their sweat and blood so that the upper elite of the human race, called the Golds, can live in luxury above the surface of Mars. When an opportunity is presented to Darrow to infiltrate the Golds and bring justice for his people, Darrow accepts the challenge. All of that happens in the first sixty pages of Red Rising. The majority of the book follows Darrow on his perilous journey from a nobody to a powerful leader that the heartless Golds are forced to recon with.
I was thrilled to read about a hero like Darrow who has the physical stature and brute strength to kick some butt when necessary yet he also has a strong moral compass to keep him moving on the right track. He has insecurities and makes a few bad decisions, but then he always picks himself back up and learns from his mistakes. I cheered for him every step of the way. There is also a wide assortment of colorful characters that surround him throughout his journey. One of the author’s greatest strengths, in my opinion, is the way he kept the action moving at a fast pace yet always found time for short interactions between the characters that told us everything we needed to know to become invested with the whole group. Even the villains were illustrated well and all were interesting in their own way. As I mentioned, there was plenty of action in Red Rising. Never once does the story drag or become predictable. Darrow’s rise to power was not at all the straight line upward that one would expect from a story like this. The plot took so many twists and turns that after a while I gave up trying to predict what was going to happen next. And every plot twist was fascinating, adding further complexity to the story. Red Rising truly takes the genre that I mentioned at the beginning of my review and raises it to a new height, far above the clouds.
CONTENT CONCERNS – I can only recommend Red Rising to older teens and adults. That’s because of some bad language and several violent scenes. The off-color words are not constant and for the most part, the author stayed away from the “f” word and using God’s name in vain. However, the “s” word gets used quite a bit along with a spattering of minor cuss words. The amount of violence is similar to the amount of cuss words. There is enough that I feel obliged to warn parents about it, but the author seemed to be trying to restrain himself, somewhat. The descriptions of most of the violence sound like they could easily be rated PG-13, descriptions of war scenes without too much gore. However, there are at least three specific incidents in the book that were described with enough gory detail that a warning of R-rated violence is necessary. Its a shame that the author didn’t use a little more restraint when it came to the cussing and violence. I would have loved to recommend Red Rising to younger teens because of the type of hero Darrow is, strong physically and morally.
I don’t typically read all books in a trilogy because I don’t like to stay in a story world for such a long time. I prefer to read a book and then move on to something completely different. Red Rising, however, is a happy exception. I like the hero this book give us and I can’t wait to see how he will complete his journey. I also like Mr. Brown’s fast paced yet character focused writing style.