Red Rising by Pierce Brown (released 28th January 2014) Received as an ARC; words, paraphrases etc, may not reflect the published version.
“The war begins…
Darrow is a Helldiver, one of a thousand men and women who live in the vast caves beneath the surface of Mars. Generations of Helldivers have spent their lives toiling to mine the precious elements that will allow the planet to be terraformed. Just knowing that one day people will be able to walk the surface of the planet is enough to justify their sacrifice. The Earth is dying, and Darrow and his people are the only hope humanity has left.
Until the day Darrow learns that it is all a lie. Mars is habitable – and indeed has been inhabited for generations by a class of people calling themselves the Golds. The Golds regard Darrow and his fellows as slave labour, to be exploited and worked to death without a second thought.
With the help of a mysterious group of rebels, Darrow 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…”
I’m taking a slightly different tact with this one. Scroll to the bottom and you’ll see why I’ve changed my approach. I rarely give a book the top whack, but this deserved it for so many reasons.
An analogy always works well in these situations, so let’s see what I can make Red Rising comparable to.
If you take Orwell’s 1984, Martin’s Game of Thrones and then rub it against Atwood’s Oryx and Crake then maybe..
That’s not it.
I don’t think there is a comparison. There are plenty of glimmers of my favourite SF and fantasy authors, but nothing can truly compare (and don’t you dare say ‘Hunger Games’ or I will have to come and poke you with a sharp stick). It’s just different. And I love that.
Notable Characters (for me):
Main Character – Darrow – It took me a while to latch on to him. In the beginning I was more interested in Eo, and then the Sons of Ares, and then the Golds. For me, there is something about the grit and the earthy strength (or should that be ‘marsy?) in Darrow that immediately made me think of Cale from The Left Hand of God by Paul Hoffman. But he grew on me, very much.
Eo – God. She will haunt me forever methinks. I dare you not to be affected by her role in this story.
Mustang – I loved her from the moment she appeared on the page. She has an attractive aura- the way she moves, speaks and acts. I want to be her BFF.
Sevro – The Goblin. You can’t not love this little scamp. He’s rude. He’s rough. And he’s effective. You want him on your side, because if he’s not? Hell, lock the doors. Tight.
The characterisation is so authentic. I could have listed each and every individual here and have something to say about them. Memorable, touchable characters. The kinds that you feel could walk into the room at any moment and you would recognise them.
World Building and Setting:
The mines – It was a slightly shaky start for me. I was confused at first, and I found the setting (while well described) hard to hold as a concrete image. There wasn’t enough ‘how’ in the first instance, but I was quickly overtaken by the character’s journey to be too bothered.
Yorkton – Out of the mines and I think this is where the narrative starts to show real flair.
The Institute – Again, the narrative comes on leaps and bounds here. Once Darrow gets to the institute, man alive, does this book get good!
Doubleplusgood – I was sceptical at first, of the compounds Brown creates, much like Orwell in 1984. Language, as a destructive force, is not the focus here however, it is more to show the power of the word. There are some great passages near the end that capture this perfectly. It is (de)evolution of man and of the world (solar system?). Language will be Darrow’s gorydamn downfall, I fear.
gravBoots, gorywell, medBots. Etc. Once my brain got over the shock (because it doesn’t like ‘new’ at first) it assimilated some of it into everyday usage. I now proudly use the various exclamations in RL.
Morals and Philosophy
What I thought was most interesting was the way Brown uses the classical teachings against each other. At one point Roque points out that Darrow used one philosopher to argue another (as it is an ARC copy, I didn’t want to directly quote it, but I’ll post it later).
The ‘game’ (of thrones) to become Primus teaches the Golds about humanity. Lessons about ruthlessness, survival, leadership, justice, war, diplomacy. Everything is applicable. As long as we are human, demi-gods or not, these are lessons we all learn to a certain extent.
Love, Love, Love
Brown didn’t forget his softer side.
Darrow is a calloused character. And he sure has his reasons for being the way he is around potential friends, and love interests. But he is also, irrevocably, human. And humans will love. It was sweet to see Darrow soften slowly. To see those first glimmers of (new) romance in him, as well as the blossoming relationships between the others, was such a pleasure to experience.
This book consumed me. Intelligently written, it is a story bursting with vibrant characters and action.
For the first time on Behind on Books, I’m giving out a 1. The highest rating possible. (see rating system)
Highly resonant, confident, and original. Brown has a narrative style and voice that I can easily identify with and enjoy. I highly recommend reading Red Rising, as I read somewhere recently (sorry! I forgot to save the page, let me know if this was you) this book is a game changer.
Quite simply one the best books I have read for quite some time.