Book Review: ‘Red Rising,’ by Pierce Brown

I haven’t read much YA fiction in my life. I’ve seen The Hunger Games films, and I’ve read Harry Potter, but that’s about it. So I was wary when my friend recommended Red Rising, assuming it wouldn’t be something I was interested in. But, I have to admit, I was pleasantly surprised.

Red Rising follows Darrow, a Red, the lowest caste in his society on Mars. He mines underground for helium-3, getting the planet ready to be inhabited by future generations. He is happy enough in his life as a Helldiver, surrounded by family.

But his wife, Eo has dreams of freedom. Freedom from the mines and freedom from the Golds, the highest colours and rulers of their colony. When Darrow finds out that they have been lied to their whole lives, that in fact Mars has been inhabited for years and they are just slaves, exiled underground to keep mining, he inherits Eo’s dreams.

Taken under the wing of a resistance group, he plans to infiltrate The Institute (the school that trains the best of the best Golds) and rise in their ranks. But before he can take them down from within, he has to survive the savagery of The Institute.

To me, Red Rising seems like a mash-up of The Hunger Games and Harry Potter, but that may be because, as I said, they’re the only YA books I’ve ever read. Perhaps the tropes that fit into all three are just tropes of YA, so of course they’re going to be similar. And being reminiscent of these two series is definitely not a bad thing anyway.

It takes a bit of patience to get into the book. There’s a lot of technical speak and things that are specific to the world of the series that aren’t explained straight away. But stick with it. The world of the book is made clear as the story goes on, which I actually really liked. Rather than slowing down the plot by explaining everything in long descriptions at the beginning, it’s all revealed naturally throughout the story. Fantasy books set in their own world always fascinate me. Being able to come up with an entirely new world with its own set of rules and people is something that I know I could never do, and authors who can always have my respect.

One thing I was wary of was the character of Darrow. He was a bit too good to be true. I get what the author was doing; trying to show Darrow as the ‘everyman’, the normal guy who can take on a government, showing us that if he can do it, anyone can. But Darrow’s not just a regular Joe. He’s obviously smarter than others around him, and he’s made out to be one of the strongest and the fittest, despite the fact that he’s only had his Gold body for a short period of time. The fact that he’s a Helldiver puts him on a pedestal within his Red community, and seems to give him an edge over the Golds he has to compete with. So he’s got advantages that most people wouldn’t have. It’s a small issue with the book, but it niggled at me nonetheless as I read.

What I did like was the tension within the story. It was well paced and kept you guessing. ‘What’s going to happen?’ and ‘how the hell are they going to get out of this?’ are questions that came into my mind a lot while reading. It’s definitely the kind of book that you’re never sure who the good guys are, and who is going to survive until the end, so it’s easy to keep turning the pages.

Red Rising isn’t the greatest book I’ve ever read, but I enjoyed it overall, and I’m looking forward to reading the next book in the series.

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