Review: Red Rising by Pierce Brown

red rising pierce brown
red rising pierce brown

Title: Red Rising  
Author: Pierce Brown  
Series: Red Rising #1  
Genre: Science Fiction, Dystopia, YA  
Publication date: January 28, 2014 
Rating: ★★★★ 

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 already reached the surface generations ago. Vast cities and sprawling parks 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.

Steel is power. Money is power. 
But of all the things in all the worlds, words are power.

I’m awfully late to this party… and maybe for once that’s a good thing. In the years it took me to finally pick this up, I’ve seen both rave and disappointing reviews. I think it was good not to read this in the direct aftermath of the whole dystopian hype. To give it some time to become its own story and not ‘the next…’. It did not disappoint!

The story at the heart of this series is one that will never ever fail to move and amaze me. In short, a lowborn nobody is selected to infiltrate the upper class of society to live and fight among them. To gain their trust only to tear the system apart from the inside out. And man, HELL YES. The moment I realised the particular way the story was going, I went all in. I love a good underdog story. I love it when people who come from nothing climb up and then tear the whole gorydamn world apart to find justice. I have no clue how all of this is going to play out by the time we reach book four, but CONSIDER ME INTRIGUED AND VERY EXCITED!

Darrow is a miner in a world where people are divided into groups of colour. He was born into an unremarkable Red family, the lowest of the lowest in the class system the Society has established to keep order in their intergalactic empire. For a long time, he believed the lie the Golds of the upper class fed him, that he was a pioneer of Mars. That his labour and that of his fellow Reds was crucial for the survival of humanity on Mars. But not everyone is as docile and optimistic. Darrow’s wife Eo tries to convince him there has to be more to life than blindly following orders. Than slavery. Darrow doesn’t want to see it. Until Eo does the unimaginable. Until the girl of his dreams sacrifices herself to show that they were made for something more. Until she dies to become a martyr.

Everything changes then. His anger and pain give him the strength to break free of his bonds. With the help of the Sons of Ares, an organisation hell bent on changing the system, he becomes a gold in everything but blood. He forsakes everything he’s ever known and everything he’s ever been so he can help shape his wife’s dream.

Man cannot be freed by the same injustice that enslaved it.

The characters are wonderfully complex and clever. All of them different and multi-layered, all of them intriguing. Besides Darrow, Mustang is my absolute favourite. She’s a really strong character with a sharp head who doesn’t take shit from anyone. But there’s honestly not a single character I didn’t like. Even the absolute bad guys I enjoyed, and especially the good ones with evil twists. They worked so well together. Well, they didn’t, but that’s exactly what made it perfect. I loved how evil Golds got human faces. How I started caring for them. How I really hope some of them will turn over eventually because I really need them to join the cause. I like the Golds more than the Reds at this point, which I suspect is exactly what Pierce Brown set out to do, and it makes me scared for the future.

The writing is beautiful, even if it took some getting used to. It’s honest and vivid. New vocabulary is seamlessly slipped it and that was both challenging and entertaining. But I loved the flow of the words and sentences. Although the pacing is rather slow. Lucky thing I’m not easily bothered by that. In fact, I might even like it.

You do not follow me because I am the strongest. Pax is. You do not follow me because I am the brightest. Mustang is. You follow me because you do not know where you are going. I do.

And then there was the Institute and the Passing and everything else that followed on Darrow’s road to glory. If I hadn’t been sold before, I definitely was now. I don’t know what it is that makes these things so damn irresistible. Initiations. Training. Challenges. Bonding. Alliances forming. Alliances breaking. Friends becoming enemies. Enemies becoming friends. And the game. UGH, THE GAME. To complete their training to become a Peerless Scarred, the young initiates have to do this game that is basically every tactical board game ever combined but in real life and all I could ever think was MAN, I WANT TO PLAY THIS THING. I would have lasted a full two minutes, I’m sure, but I absolutely love this kind of strategic challenge. Especially when there is inhouse rivalry and plotting. And hey murder and backstabbing and the whole party. Such fun ahahhaaha.

But however great some parts were, I did say I understood where the criticism is coming from as well. Darrow, for all that I love him, is just a little too perfect. It’s like nothing can go wrong for this kid. He’s a prodigy, I get that, but everything came so easy. It’s a good thing that I liked him. If not, it would have bothered me a lot more than it did now. I hope this is somethings that will change, there’s nothing like the anguish of seeing your heroes fail to make you root for them even harder.

Also, the world building is decent but not excellent (yet). There are holes in this system that are conveniently covered up. Things that feel… too mhm, easy. Like the way Darrow’s transition to a Gold is handled. It took not enough effort. The way his intelligence was augmented, his body was modified… I also didn’t think Eo’s sacrifice made a whole lot of sense. Too cheap a move for a girl who dreamt of changing the world, not what a fighter at heart would do. At least not as a first act of rebellion. But of course it served the story very well. You can shape a world however you like of course, but some things just felt a little off. Three more books to prove me wrong, Brown. Three more books.

But, as I said, I’m camp rave on this one! I’m very excited to find out what else is about to happen and I’m reading Golden Son as we speak. I hope those damned Golds get wat they deserve. There is a true rebellion here and it’s dark and vicious and I can’t wait for it to break loose.

Break the chains, my love.

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