“I would have lived in peace. But my enemies brought me war.” – Darrow (Pierce Brown, Red Rising)
My love for sci-fi, dystopian novels has all but died off of late, probably because of the repetitive, dry nature of most new books in the genre of late. And I mean, if I’m to be honest here, Red Rising is essentially just a more intricate, well written, less romantic version of Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games. Brutal caste system designed to oppress the low and bolster the high? Check. Secret rebellion in the making? Check? Throw a bunch of children into an arena and tell them to fight? Check (I’ll concede a bit here- they did tell them that the goal wasn’t to actually murder each other, but that went to shit pretty fast and no one stopped them). If it weren’t for the poignant lack of star-crossed lovers, I would have almost though that I was reading The Hunger Games. Well, that and the fact that Red Rising doesn’t even take place on Earth (hence the sci-fi).
Red Rising’s story takes place in the distant future. Humanity (if it can be called that) has spread out across the solar system, and has also divided itself with a caste system of Colors. Golds rule over society, while lowReds like Darrow live out their entire lives beneath the surface of Mars, mining for helium-3, believing their hard work and sacrifice are all in an effort to eventually terraform the planet and make it habitable for future inhabitants. Darrow, like the other Reds of his colony, believes himself to be a pioneer of what will one day be a great civilization. This lie, fed to the Reds by the ruling Golds, is shattered when Darrow is recruited by the Sons of Ares, following the death of his wife. For the first time, Darrow sees the world above the surface- a world already terraformed and habitable, filled with the other Colors. Through the influence of the Sons of Ares, Darrow is Carved in a Gold, and thrown into the Golds most elite competition- the Institute. There, he fights among the children of the Peerless Scarred to become one of them. Should he win, he’ll be given the chance to apprentice to a Peerless Gold and further infiltrate their society. Should he lose, the penalty could be death.
So how exactly does a sci-fi on Mars compare to a dystopian society on Earth?
- First off, the society Brown created in reminiscent of the Capitol and the Districts. The Golds (i.e. the Capitol) ruling over the mining settlements (i.e. the Districts), all the while suppressing the lesser Colors who live among them.
- And I mean sure, the kids volunteered to go to the Institute (which rarely happens in The Hunger Games), but they thought they were going to school, then got thrown into a battle field. The Institute is literally an arena (remind you of anything?), monitored and manipulated by Proctors (i.e. Gamemakers), who send Bounty (i.e. those little parachutes in the Games) down to the preferred candidates (i.e. Tributes, and we all know that there were preferred Tributes).
- And what’s more? (There’s more, you say?) The entire gory thing was broadcast to potential sponsors so they could scope out future apprentices.
So, basically, Pierce Brown made The Hunger Games grittier and more intricate. A few more specifics:
- The world that Brown has created in Red Rising feels real. It feels believable. Has has immersed the story with rich details that immerse you in this futuristic, yet barbaric world. The story just furthers wraps you up in it, drawing you into the lives of the Reds, the Golds, and Darrow’s struggle to remain human yet achieve Eo’s dream.
- Darrow is also wonderfully complex. He is hard to dislike, despite his evident character flaws, and despite the fact that him winning means him ruthlessly conquering the other competitors, you’re still rooting for him to win. Cause he’s the good guy… Right?
- This book is technically classified as an Adult novel, however I feel that it would fit right in among the Young Adult section. While there are some more grisly, mature subjects broached (which I’ll get to in a moment) in the book, its no more so than many YA novels I’ve seen popping up of late. Those grisly subjects? Rape, murder, death, prostitution and torture are all featured quite prominently throughout the book, in their own way. Pinks are the “pleasure color”, living out their lives as prostitutes to high colors. The very setting of the Institute lends itself to the rest- murder, death and torture are clearly expected, and note even widely frowned upon by the Proctors, as all are seen as part of Conquering. Rape, while not as prominent, is generally viewed with horror by almost all the characters, who do what they can to stop and prevent it. Definitely intended for a more mature audience, but I wouldn’t say that this book is off limits to teens.
This book was well worth the read, although I won’t go so far as to say that I loved it. It has all the makings of a great book; a wonderfully intricate plot, complex characters and just the right amount of surprise. It started off wonderfully- I was shocked by sudden Eo’s fate, curious about the Sons of Ares, intrigued by the Institute. But, as I said, it just fell a little bit short for me, mostly because I felt as though it was an adaptation of The Hunger Games.