Wayback Reviews: Red Rising

With my old stomping ground Green Man Review now dead and gone, I’m posting stuff I wrote there back in the day.  Because I hate to see it vanish. First published at Green Man Review March 31st, 2014. I’d link to the original, but as that site has ceased to be, here ’tis all alone.

Pierce Brown: Red Rising

red rising coverAnother dystopian future full of young adults who don’t know where they fit in?  Nooooo, you cry!  You’re sick to death of angsty teens navel-gazing their way through revolution, and if you see another love triangle featuring supernatural creatures that take their shirt off for no good reason, you’ll end someone.

Not to worry.  Red Rising does have the requisite dystopian future, but that’s where Pierce Brown breaks away from the pack and launches into a scathing look at politics, social order and The State, all tied up with one (young) man’s quest for vengeance.  Red Rising may be shoehorned in with the other YA books that have taken off thanks to the power of blockbuster series like The Hunger Games and Divergent (and yes, even  – shudder — Twilight), but it’s it’s own kind of beast, with it’s own kind of dangers and difficulties.  That makes Red Rising a novel that stands away from the pack nicely, and one that has this reviewer slavering for the next installment.  Grab this book before it shoots up the bestseller charts, and you can pull the Cool Book Nerd card at your next get-together.  Oh yeah, and it’s a helluva read.

Darrow is a Red, the lowest rung of the social ladder.  He and his fellow Reds toil in the bowels of Mars, trying to make it habitable for humans.  They’re told their pioneers, saviours of the human race.  Problem?  Higher level humans, or “higher colors”, have already moved into Mars, and Reds are simply the ones doing their dirty work.  When Darrow’s wife Eo — who found out about this and thirsted for revolution — is executed by top-of-the-food-chain Golds, he is given a choice; become a Gold and overthrow the status quo, or end up just like his beloved Eo.  But Darrow’s view of what it must be like to be a Gold is rocked when he’s chosen to become the elite of the elite, and there’s no guarantee he’ll live through the testing process.

When reading this book it was inevitable that I’d feel the whispers of Lord of the Flies, Enders Game and The Hunger Games.  It’s a story where a young man has to battle his way to the top, up-ending the social order as he goes along.  But there’s a freshness and truth in the words of these characters. The narrative feels honest, like real young adults instead of an author reaching way back. Probably because the author is recently out of his teens himself.

In a similar move to The Hunger Games, Red Rising groups humans into classes.  But rather than go by geographic location, Rising sees humanity evolve into different sub-classes, which are color-coded.  Pinks are the masters of the “physical arts”.  Obsidian are the warriors.  Violets the artists, and so on.  The book’s Web site has a wonderful pyramid that makes the hierarchy easy to follow.  I also loved the breakdown of the Gold “house” system, with it’s strong ties to Roman mythology.  When Brown gets into the climax of the novel, the young Golds are sorted into different houses that all must do battle against the other. Mars, Venus,Ceres, Jupiter…it’s a mythology nerd’s dream.  I would have liked more time with the various houses — hello, House Bacchus! — and how they worked, but I’m guessing the ties that were forged here may play a larger part in the second part of the trilogy, as the young Golds leave their testing arena and enter their real world.

But what I loved the most?  Hey look – a fantastic ya novel with no love triangle! Inconceivable? Seems that way with the current crop of dystopian lurves, but believe it. Darrow focuses on the task at hand, and though there’s a beautiful Gold girl who plays an important part in this tale, he’s still all about the Red love he lost. *fans self*

I loved how this book made me really, truly consider alternative forms of government. With the mythology here favoring rule by an elite class, there’s a predisposition to squinch a nose at that “better than you” way of thinking. However, as the author digs into the training of young Gold leaders, I found myself seeing what the proctors wanted their charges to discover; in a fierce world perhaps hard, ruthless decisions are necessary. I’m looking forward to seeing if the author shows readers that necessity, or if instead the world of the Gold works against itself.

And if you think this novel has caused an insane amount of Hollywood infighting for the movie rights, you’d be spot on.  Universal nabbed the glory, and as of right this second it looks like World War Z’s Marc Forster will helm.  But please, don’t wait for the movie.  Much like WWZ, there’s no way a film can do this amazing, sweeping tale justice.  Pick up a copy and dive right in.  You might want to make sure a few friends do the same, because you’ll definitely want to discuss the ideas presented.  May I suggest a nice stout and some brown bread to tide you over during that debate?

* note: The author ain’t one to shy away from the red stuff. In fact, while reading this book I toyed with the idea that Red Rising was actually a hint at how gory the action gets.  Those that suffer from Faint Of Heart-itis may want to take a pass.  Pity.

(Random House, 2014)

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