Red Rising

Red Rising

Red Rising was first published in 2014 and is Pierce Brown’s debut novel. It is a dystopian science fiction story focusing on a slave trying to incite revolution on Mars. The book forms the first part of The Red Rising Trilogy and is followed by Golden Son (2015) and Morning Star (2016).

In the far future, society is determined by Colours. The highest – the Golds – rule over society as near godlike figures while the lowly Reds live far beneath the surface of Mars where they mine the precious Helium-3 required for terraforming the surface. Their work is exhausting and dangerous but they know it’s for the greater good. When the surface is habitable, they have been promised a position of importance in the new world.

After a family tragedy, Darrow – a sixteen year old Red – comes to learn the truth. The Golds have been lying to them for generations. The surface of Mars has become their paradise and his people are viewed as expendable slave labour. Naturally disillusioned, he finds a place for himself within a terrorist cell called the Sons of Ares. Ares has a dangerous plan – a way to destroy the status quo from within – and Darrow is the perfect teenager to set it in motion.

Darrow undergoes months of painful reconstructive surgery to allow him to pass off as a Gold and takes on a new identity as the orphaned heir of a wealthy family. Using this, he gains a place at the Academy – the first step for Golds who wish achieve the highest rank, the Peerless Scarred. However, the Academy will be more dangerous than anything Darrow ever faced in the mines. The Golds are a ruthless race and aren’t above lying, cheating and murdering to win out over their fellows…

Before I’d begin, I think it’s time to roll out my usual warning. It should be noted that Brown intended for this series to appeal to both adults and young adults and therefore it’s not really suitable for younger teens. Not only is it very text-dense and heavy going in places but it contains some sexual language and scenes of rape and torture. While it’s not a terribly graphic story, I’d still not recommend it for readers under the age of sixteen.

With that out of the way, let’s take a look at the book itself. Before I’d even started reading, my expectations were already pretty high. I’d heard such wonderful things about it that I went into the story expecting to love it. However, it unfortunately fell a little short of my expectations. It’s not a bad book, not by a long shot. It did slowly draw me in and successfully make me care about a couple of the characters. However, it’s just not what I was expecting.

The best thing about the story was its world building. Really, there’s no way that I can complement this enough. Brown’s world is just so vibrant and real. It’s set in the far future when human evolution has branched out in a number of different ways and society has modeled itself on the glory of Ancient Rome. In this world, a person’s social standing is determined by their hair and eye colour. Golds are athletic, intelligent and born to rule. Obsidians are huge and strong and are trained as warriors. Reds are deemed weak and stupid and are believed to be good for nothing except hard labour. The book really throws the reader in the deep end and so is quite daunting to begin with but within 100 pages I felt as though I was actually on Mars.

While the story is best described as being The Hunger Games for boys, this is really selling it short. While the influence of The Hunger Games is undeniable, particularly in the form that the Academy’s tests take, it also feels like a cross between The Game of Thrones, Enders Game and Brave New World. The story is technically dystopian science fiction but its really easy to forget this at times. It has a wordiness and political depth that is far more common to high fantasy stories. While it’s always pretty obvious where Brown has taken his inspiration from, he still adds enough innovation to leave his novel feeling fresh and original.

However, the book still had a few gaping problems that really hindered my enjoyment of it. First of all was the structure of the story. The pacing was just a bit all over the place. The opening chapters of the novel were deathly slow and I found myself struggling to keep focused. While the tension ramps over the second half of the book, it still led to a rather anti-climatic ending. Without spoiling it for you, the second half of the story builds towards a final confrontation between Darrow and his rival, a twisted student known only as the Jackal. However, this does not really end as well as I’d hoped. There’s no cataclysmic confrontation. It just kind of…ends.

I also felt that the story started to lose its focus during the game. The first half of the novel builds the importance of Darrow’s mission – his success in the Academy will determine his placement in society and the Sons of Ares really need him to eventually be in a position where he’ll command a fleet of starships. However, Darrow hardly thinks of this at all while he’s at the Academy. The outside world fades from the story as he’s drawn into the petty rivalries of the school. Rivalries that he never seems to play very well. For someone who’s supposed to be worming his way into high society, Darrow sure seems to make a lot of enemies. While not all of these are his fault, it still struck me as odd that he wasn’t doing more to ensure his success.

Because of this, I found myself really indifferent towards Darrow. He was just such a blank slate. It felt as though he’d stepped out of a piece of socialist propaganda – the figure of the mighty worker overthrowing his bourgeois masters. His perfect transition into a Gold just seemed a tad too unbelievable. Mickey says that he can’t change Darrow’s mind – that Reds and Gods are just too mentally different – yet Darrow quickly proves that he’s not only equal to his masters, but superior. I get that the purpose of this is to show that the Gold belief that the Reds are inferior has no groundings but it still makes no sense. Darrow is an uneducated slave yet he spoke like a poet even before his conversion. It’s just all too fast, too perfect. He doesn’t even seem to struggle with his new identity, let alone ever slip up.

However, I did think that some of the background characters showed the development that Darrow lacked. Cassius, Sevro and Mustang all actually felt like real people. I felt for Cassius in particular in the story as he always seemed genuinely kind (a sensitivity that few of his fellow Golds ever displayed). While Darrow always seemed somewhat disconnected, not even really emoting when he discovers that some of his fellow students have been raped, Cassius is passionate and quick to anger. His pain is genuine and it helped me to empathise with him.

As one of the few significant female characters in the story, Mustang also faired pretty well. She was strong, independent and intelligent. It did irritate me how frequently Darrow had to save her (I counted three times to the one that she rescued him) but her final actions within the book were pretty awesome. I really hope that she develops into a love interest for Darrow in the next instalment. Maybe it would make him feel a bit more human.

Anyhow, I think I’m starting to ramble so I guess it’s time to wrap up. For a debut novel, Red Rising is very strong. While I had some issues with the structure and the development of the protagonist, I did enjoy the world building and it certainly kept my interest. I will definitely pick up Golden Son at some point as I’m curious to see how the story will develop.

Red Rising can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book on

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Nicole Groshek
    Feb 15, 2016 @ 22:57:46

    I just started this book and at 80 pages in I’m already hooked! Te hunger games similarities are definitely noticeable, but not distracting me too much as of yet


    • Kim
      Feb 15, 2016 @ 23:26:28

      I thought they got increasing noticable towards the end. The Academy tests aren’t as brutal as the Games but there are a lot of similarities.


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