Red Rising – Pierce Brown

About the Book

The war begins…

Darrow is a Helldiver, one of a thousand men and women who live in the vast caves beneath the surface of Mars. Generations of Helldivers have spent their lives toiling to mine the precious elements that will allow the planet to be terraformed. Just knowing that one day people will be able to walk the surface of the planet is enough to justify their sacrifice. The Earth is dying, and Darrow and his people are the only hope humanity has left.

Until the day Darrow learns that it is all a lie. Mars is habitable – and indeed has been inhabited for generations by a class of people calling themselves the Golds. The Golds regard Darrow and his fellows as slave labour, to be exploited and worked to death without a second thought.

With the help of a mysterious group of rebels, Darrow disguises himself as a Gold and infiltrates their command school, intent on taking down his oppressors from the inside.

But the command school is a battlefield. And Darrow isn’t the only student with an agenda.

400 pages (hardcover)
Published on January 28, 2014
Published by Random House
Author’s webpage

This book was sent for me to review by the publisher.

Here’s the deal. If you told me that I absolutely had to read a young adult book that dealt with power struggles, politics, and fights to the death, I’d probably opt out. The Hunger Games didn’t really do it for me. Sure, I’d rather read that than a lot of other stuff that is out there right now, but if I had a choice, I wouldn’t decide to read that series if I had other options. That’s not saying that it’s a bad series, I’m just not into reading books about teenagers trying to kill each other.

I entered Red Rising with a bit of reluctance. The premise was interesting, and I enjoy reading books set on other planets, with other political and cultural systems at play, but the general idea seemed very similar to The Hunger Games. Don’t worry, that’s probably a comparison you’ll see in a lot of reviews. That’s also why I think this book will be a knock out success. It’s similar enough to a very popular series, while being different enough to appeal to readers of that series, and readers like me, who just don’t get into kids killing other kids in fights to the death.

Red Rising tells the story of one Darrow, a teenaged Helldiver whose entire job is to mine elements out of the rocks of Mars that will allow the planet to be terraformed. Fed a lie since birth, Darrow and his ilk believe that they are the only people on the planet, and that they are the brave ones paving the way for the future. Now, you’re probably waiting to be wowed by any of these plot elements. The thing is, so far the bones of the story are all very similar to so many others that you’ve probably read. The devil is in the details, and we all know that this bookworm is a sucker for details.

Brown makes sure to cover all of his bases, and it’s those covered bases, and the small details that really make Red Rising work for me on so many levels. Yes, the protagonist is a teenager in years, but in true age he is so much older. In societies where the life expectancy is so low, and death is a product of the job, being a teenager is considered middle aged. Darrow might be young in years, but due to his life expectancy, being married, having a career, thinking about children is totally normal. It might throw some people off, but when you really look at it in context, the way Brown uses age as a tool to really drive home just the sort of lifestyle these people live is incredibly effective.

It also puts a lot of Darrow’s actions into perspective in the rest of the book. It reminded me a bit of Jorg from Mark Lawrence’s series. Jorg might be young in age, but in life experience he was much older than many people around him. The same can be said for Darrow. He makes mistakes, and falls into mental, emotional, and physical ruts, but his young age is juxtaposed with some very adult actions and thoughts, and these are understandable due to his cultural background.

Not everything is rainbows and happiness, though. Darrow undergoes some pretty incredible changes, some of which felt a bit too easy, and some of the plot developments felt a little too convenient. I have a hard time accepting a character’s godlike status, no matter how it is explained away. Sometimes Darrow’s mistakes didn’t balance out his physically and mentally heightened states. Basically, occasionally Darrow felt a little “too perfect” to be absolutely believable.

Brown is one hell of a writer. I really need people to understand that. Red Rising was written in an interesting, but effective style. Brown never went overboard with his descriptions. In fact, sometimes I felt like he could have been a little more descriptive. However, when I’d usually say that’s a bad thing, it really worked here. Brown used the sparse, almost reluctant feel of his writing the same way he used age – it’s a tool, and a very effective one. While Brown’s writing might feel a little reluctant, it really works to drive many of his scenes, and the emotions his characters feel, home in a very powerful way. In fact, I have to admit that Red Rising is probably one of the most emotionally jarring, beautiful young adult books I’ve read in a long time. Brown knows how to use a few words to really bring his characters and the scenes alive in blazing glory for his readers.

The plot moves forward at an easy clip, and if things can feel a bit predictable after the halfway point, it is pretty forgivable. Brown succeeds where many other dog-eat-dog young adult books fail: he keeps it believable. If the believability does occasionally falter in matters of characterization, his absolutely beautiful, emotionally jarring writing will smooth your ruffled feathers. Red Rising is the kind of book you experience. This is the way I like my young adult books written – mature, unassuming, a double punch in the gut and heart, believable, poignant, memorable, jarring, emotional, and absolutely captivatingly unique.


5/5 stars

6 Responses

  • More and more it appears I am going to fall on the wrong side of popular opinion on this one. I enjoyed it, and will look for the next one, but wow people are gushing about it all over the place. I just never bought in completely once he left the underground.

  • Thanks, Sarah. I don’t read a lot of YA, but this book has drawn some interest for me.

  • Big d

    I have heard an enormous amount of positive things about this book since the author’s appearance at Comic-Con in July. The one worry I had about it was that it would be another attempt at replicating The Hunger Games. I read only the first Hunger Games book and didn’t find nearly as compelling as most readers did. Red Rising has me intrigued though. I just pre-ordered it.

    (We seem to be on a similar wavelength of late. The last two books I ordered (neither read yet) were Generation V and The Grendel Files. I also recently purchased Sandman Slim (also not read yet) and have Dirty Magic high on my wish list.)

  • The Red Rising Trilogy is marketed as a young adult series but I would classify it as new adult. The violence is off the charts and there are many instances of rape although only mentioned and never described. And I’ve never seen people go this crazy over a book series that hasn’t even been released. Reviewers are clamoring to get ARCs, early reviews are singing the praises of Red Rising, and its ratings are high.

  • Cheryl

    Hi Sarah,
    I’ve been mulling over my March Audible credits for a week or so and Red Rising has been on my wish list.
    Thought I’d hop on over and see if you had read it. Yeah for me! 5/5 on the Bookworm Scale means it’s in my cart and I can look forward to it. Thanks so much for the time and effort you put into your reviews.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.