July 10, 2017

Book Review: Red Rising by Pierce Brown

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 reached the surface generations ago. Vast cities and lush wilds 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.

Confession: When this first came out, I actually shunned it just because of all the buzz and hype because I am such a contrarian. The masses couldn't possibly be right, can they?  Yes, I was acting a little bit of a Gold. Plus the description just sounded like every other would be Hunger Games dystopian novel out there - derivative and ... a society stratified by colors, really? 

And yet one day, four days ago to be exact, a copy happened to fall into my lap and upon reading the first page I was instantly, irrevocably HOOKED. I write this now having ripped through the entire trilogy in THREE DAYS. 

Did I surreptitiously read it on my phone at work? YES. Did I battle exhaustion trying to read one more chapter into the late, late night despite loving sleep almost as much as chocolate? YES. Did I pounce on every vaguely bookish person I know and blather with the crazed look and incoherence of a fanatic about this novel, despite not even being a sci-fi reader? YES.  

Don't be put off by the proliferation of all caps in my review. I haven't been this excited about a book in such a long time, plus I was in a bit of a reading slump, having been adrift in a sea of discarded books. So you must forgive me.

Okay, I will concede that the comparisons to Hunger Games and the Lord of the Flies have merit. Not only that, there are heavy Greek and Roman allusions. There are recognizable, familiar elements. This is after all a classic Hero's Journey. The lowly Darrow, motivated  by grief and revenge, manages to rise to the highest strata - to even the realm of the gods.  

It is not original and yet it is. Like Sevro and the Howlers and the rest of the House of Mars, I want to follow Darrow and see what next audacious step he takes. I was constantly surprised, on the edge of my seat trying to see how he would win or recover from a failure. 

I'll admit there are problems. The female characters do not seem fully realized. There's a helluva lot of rape going on. But even with its flaws, Red Rising slayed me. I was all in from the first line to the last. I got the next book after a hundred pages in. 

One thing I am thankful for, having come into this series rather late is that I had the entire trilogy at my disposal, reading one right after the other, without that agonizing long wait in between.  

So far, Red Rising is probably #6 (out of 35) in my top reads of 2017. 

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