Dystopian future books seem to be all the rage lately in YA fiction. Whether it’s Hunger Games or Maze Runner or the Divergent series, it seems like these books are a dime a dozen. When I first heard about Red Rising by Pierce Brown, I wasn’t all that interested. It seemed like it was probably going to be the same old story, and I fell like I am much more of an optimist, so I don’t always like these bleak future type books. I get their appeal. I understand why people like them, they just aren’t typically my cup of tea. Plus, I am still getting over the third book in the Hunger Games series. I still feel ripped off. As I read more about Red Rising, though, I found myself becoming more and more interested. I found myself wanting to read it. Let me tell you why.
The first thing that drew me to this book was the fact that it was set on Mars. I don’t know why, but knowing that this was at a point in our future where we have begun colonizing other worlds was fascinating to me. The whole world seems really well thought out and built. The author has a multi-layered system built out, and it is intricate and detailed. Not only are there different colors for each caste, but there are levels within those colors. There are golds, but within that are bronzes and pixies and coppers, etc. There are reds that work in the mines under the surface and reds that don’t. All of that worked for me.
I loved where this story begins. The mines of Mars. They seem rough, and the people in the mines are tough, but good for the most part. They makes decisions we would find deplorable at times, but then, in context, you find yourself wondering if you wouldn’t make the same decisions. The world they live in is built on the community producing in the mines and being rewarded for it. They have very little to eat and live on, but they are still expected to marry and have children and produce more Reds to work in the mines. Basically, it’s all pretty miserable. The only thing that keeps Darrow, the main character, going is knowing that they are preparing mars to someday be colonized. Well, that, and the love of his wife. They’re both like 14, but in the world of the reds, that’s normal. They are able to breed, so they are adults. Darrow is content to be the best driller his community and to be married to his wife.
Like most books, this all changes when his wife dies. Better said, his wife is murdered by the government. As a result of this, Darrow ends up finding out about and is sucked into the resistance. At first, he doesn’t want anything to do with them, but he knows that his wife believed in their cause, and somehow wanted this for him, so he agrees to join up and gets assigned a mission right off the bat. The first step in his mission is to become a gold. This happens through a series of surgeries and training, all preparing him to compete with other golds and convince them that he is also a gold.
All of this leads to the meat of the story, which takes place in a gold training facility that is meant to prepare their young people to be leaders. This is where the book kind of loses me, a little. This whole battle arena felt a lot like the Hunger Games to me. All of the originality of the book that had been established at this point was now gone. At least it felt that way. Granted, the battles were between armies as opposed to individual kids, but the basic premise was the same. Teenage kids forced to hunt and kill each other. Ok, to be fair, in Red Rising, they’re not supposed to kill each other, but they all do it anyway. Just like the Hunger Games, Darrow is not supposed to win, but he does. It felt almost like a rerun. Yes, there were differences, like incorporating the Roman gods and the armies and such, but it still felt and read the same.
I think the important thing for me with this book was to recognize that this is part of a trilogy, and with how this book ends, I don’t think the second book will be just like this first one. I guess I am hoping it won’t be. Although the book felt very familiar, there were some things I liked. I liked Darrow more than I like Katniss. He was much more of an Ender Wiggins type character, and was much more likable. I also like that this all took place in space and I like where it ended and where it has the potential to go. I am hoping it is nowhere near the arena again. I like the way Darrow’s army came together, which was probably where he mirrored Ender the most. He looked for talent and skill, not just size. He used tactics the other teams wouldn’t and broke the rules he needed to in order to win. I guess what it really felt like was Ender’s Game meets Hunger Games.
Overall, the story was entertaining, and it was well paced. It is all told first person, which seems to work well in these types of stories. The action was just about the right amount. It broke up the slow parts at just the right time, but it wasn’t over done. The characters, other than Darrow, all seemed a little flat, one-dimensional. Darrow had so much depth, in comparison. However, because so many of the characters followed preset archetypes, it was comfortable from the beginning. In the end, I would recommend reading this book, especially if the whole dystopian future thing is, well, your thing.
Have you read Red Rising? If so, what did you think? Is there a book you would like to see me discuss in 50 Good Books? Let me know in the comments, or send your suggestions to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. You suggested title may be the next title I read.
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