- Red Rising by Pierce Brown
Rating: * * *
Series: #1 Red Rising
Publication Date: 2014
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 on Darrow and his fellows as slave labour, to be exploited and worked to death without a second thought.
Until the day that 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.
To be honest, I found it hard to give a rating for ‘Red Rising’. There were some really good bits in the novel, but these were counteracted by some bits that I found boring. During these latter bits I was tempted to put the book down and pick up something else from my TBR list.
I was divided on the book as a whole, but especially in the opening. On the one hand it is very good at establishing the grim and awful world Darrow lives in:
‘On Mars there is not much gravity. So you have to pull the feet to break the neck. They let the loved ones do it.’
‘I’m looking for the pitvipers that curl through the darkness seeking the warmth of my drill. They’ll eat into your suit too, bit through the shell and then try to burrow into the warmest place they find, usually your belly, so they can lay their eggs.’
Brown establishes the dystopian nature of the world very quickly. However, at times in the opening I wanted to shout at the book, ‘Show, don’t tell!’ Some of the information is left for the reader to discover – about how the caste system actually works and about the Golds – but some information about Darrow, his life and his relationships is just plonked down. The vital information we are left to discover actually makes the novel confusing. I also found it irritating how there are lots of terms in Darrow’s world that have a capital letter midword. This is a common trait in dystopian novels that is sometimes unnecessary.
Additionally, while there is action and tension in the beginning – Darrow is drilling and it is dangerous – it didn’t come across particularly vividly for me and didn’t capture my imagination. I wasn’t picturing what was happening the way I do with most other books. There wasn’t dialogue for a while; it was more reflective and I found the first person present narration dragged slightly. It’s definitely not one of the best openings I have read. I felt it could have been punchier and it did not really grab me or make me want to read on.
However, I did read on and from 6 percent the book really picked up for me. I thought the section from 6 to 13 percent was fantastic: it was dramatic, tense, moving, and I loved Eo. She had such vitality and passion when she made her speech to Darrow:
‘Death isn’t empty like you say it is. Emptiness is life without freedom, Darrow. Emptiness is living chained by fear, fear of loss, of death. I say we break those chains. Break the chains of fear and you break the chains that bind us to the Golds, to the Society.’
I also really enjoyed the detail in Darrow’s transformation and that bit did really capture my imagination and it interested and intrigued me. Darrow as a character, however, wasn’t actually that great for me. I didn’t root for him in the way I have rooted for other characters recently. He was okay, but he didn’t have any obvious flaws or defining characteristics, so he wasn’t especially memorable or vivid. In fact, none of the characters aside from Eo actually stood out for me, apart from Mustang and Sevro who did at select times.
As well as enjoying the description of Darrow’s transformation, I liked the twists concerning Titus at the end of chapter 28 and the one concerning Mustang at the end, as well as the fact that Darrow and Mustang’s budding relationship was described subtly and developed slowly (none of the dreaded ‘instalove’!) Darrow’s stand off with Jackal was very tense and dramatic, as was the trap where someone pretended to be Mustang to fool Darrow.
In my opinion, overall, ‘Red Rising’ was a mix of very good sections and less good sections. I won’t be rushing to read the sequel, but if I have time I will probably check it out because I think that it might be one of those series that gets better as it goes along.