Not too long ago a friend of mine recommended I read Red Rising, by Pierce Brown. She said it was just my sort of thing and she was completely right.
Anyway, onto the details; Spoiler Alert as always, as I’ve just given up trying to review books without giving anything away! Big spoiler here, though if you read it you might have seen it coming…
The Earth is dying. Darrow is a Red, a miner in the interior of Mars. His mission is to extract enough precious elements to one day tame the surface of the planet and allow humans to live on it. The Reds are humanity’s last hope.
Or so it appears until the day Darrow discovers it’s all a lie. That Mars has been habitable – and inhabited – for generations, by a class of people calling themselves the Golds. A class of people who look down at Darrow and his fellows as slave labour, to be exploited and worked to death without a second thought.
Until the day Darrow, with the help of a mysterious group of rebels, 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.
- Characters. Let’s start with characters – not only is Brown’s main man Darrow great (smart, dexterous, tactical), but he also crafts a wealth of secondary characters who do their utmost to steal the show (A whole book dedicated to Sevro please?). Though the plot and world it happens in are fantastical in this book, what really grabbed me were the characters and how so many of them have their own voice. It would be easy in a book like this for supporting characters to be bland cannon fodder to be killed off when another shock is needed to reinforce the deadly battle these kids are playing, but they didn’t feel like that and I would have happily read a bunch more pages of just all these characters interacting.
- Worldbuilding: when you’re setting a book in a society that works vastly differently from our own it’s important to hash it out with the reader; how does this work? How is this related to that etc. I think Brown does a great job at showing you how this system works, but as a reader I d feel a little confused and overwhelmed by all the new details. Now I can’t tell whether this is accidental and needed more explanation, or whether you’re purposefully meant to feel a little like Darrow, understanding how the society functions but ultimately a bit out of your depth with all the new information. Maybe that’s too much credit, but I’m in a good mood because this was such a great read!
- Plot: I loved the Hunger Games / deadly capture the flag vibe the main part of the book dealt with, it was my favourite bit, even if I did have to keep flicking back to the map at the beginning to figure out where all the castles were.
- Sci-fi: This was a great sci-fi book, and we know I’m all about dem spaceships and other planets.
- Women. There are two parts to this point, and one is fridging. Let’s talk about fridging female characters, because I’ve been musing this for a little bit now. For anyone not familiar with the term, “Fridging” has come to refer to the annoying trope of a female character – usually a love interest – dying in order to progress the plot of the male protagonist. In these cases, the woman has very little plot of her own and exists solely for her death to motivate the hero.
I know there’s a fair bit of criticism and mentions of fridging surrounding Darrow’s wife, Eo. Now, I will agree that Eo’s death does indeed motivate Darrow. His anger at the society that killed his wife is his driving force throughout his trials. In this respect, sure, the trope fits. Where I believe it falls flat is that to me, Eo is very well developed in the first quarter of the book. By her death, she’s a rounded character with her own ideas, dreams, skills, and emotions, and the events that lead to her martyrdom feel real and a natural progression of her character. To me, this is not fridging, but I digress.
“I live for the dream that my children will be born free. That they will be what they like. That they will own the land their father gave them.” – Eo
I also can’t not mention Mustang, who is refreshing nearly throughout. She’s frequently praised in the text (and by characters) for being the most intelligent of the bunch, and is an immense badass…right up until the point she’s turned into a damsel in distress. And no, hanging a lantern on it doesn’t cancel it out.
“She groans. ‘I’ve become the maiden in distress, haven’t I? Slag! I hate those girls.'”
- The first third of the book went a little slow. It was very full of information, Darrow was learning this new world and so were we, but it sort of felt like the Institute and the wargames were the meat of the book the author was trying to get to.
I loved so many different parts about this book, but I really enjoyed Darrow pretty much just snapping and being all stop fucking with me and taking down the Proctors.
“They pushed and pushed for so long. They knew I was something dangerous, something different. Sooner or later, they had to know I would snap and come to cut them down. Or perhaps they think I’m still a child. The fools. Alexander was a child when he ruined his first nation.”
I have so many favourite quotes from this, and not surprisingly, they all involve Sevro:
“’I killed their pack leader,’ Sevro says when I ask why the wolves follow him. He looks me up and down and flashes me an impish grin from beneath the wolf pelt. ‘Don’t worry, I wouldn’t fit in your skin.’”
“Sevro shrugs. ‘We’ll take Minerva’s standard.’
‘W-wait,’ Cassius says. ‘You know how to do that?’
Sevro snorts. ‘What do you think I’ve been doing this whole time, you silky turd? Wanking off in the bushes?’
Cassius and I look at each other.
‘Kind of,’ I say.
‘Yeah, actually,’ Cassius agrees.”
“Funny thing is, only one tribe has a silvershit’s idea what is going on. And it’s not ours. […] It’s Sevro’s, and I’m nearly certain he’s the only member in that tribe, unless he’s adopted wolves by now. It is hard to say if he has or hasn’t. […] Though occiasionally we’ll see him running along the hillsides at night in his wolfskin, looking, as Cassius puts it best, “Like some sort of hairy demonchild on hallucinogens” […] Some days Sevro walks around all normalish – insulting everything that moves, except for Quinn.”
Out of Ten:
Eight. Because I’m just hanging on for the rest of those girls to get as much development as Mustang.
I got quite into it in those sections up there, so there’s not much more I can say about this book. It feels like a mashup of The Hunger Games and Lord of the Flies with some Game of Thrones and Harry Potter thrown in for good measure, and yet it also feels like something refreshingly new that I’ve never read before. I was impressed with the breadth of the supporting characters, and if Brown would just work on giving more of the girls as much of a personality as the boys, we’d be golden (pun intended).
I can’t wait to get started on the next two, I’m going on holiday this weekend and have the second and third parts of this trilogy queued up as sunbathing reading.