I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Series: Red Rising Trilogy #1
Published by Del Rey on January 28th 2014
Genres: Adult, Dystopian, Sci-Fi
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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...
This is the first review I’ve ever written where I’m leaving a book unrated. I both loved and hated this book equally. There were parts that really frustrated me, bored me, excited me, and completely hooked me. I’m not even sure what Red Rising is really classified as. One half of the book feels very Dystopian/sci-fi while the other half reads like an entirely different genre, perhaps High Fantasy. If I were to even attempt to describe what this book is I’d say image Gladiator and Lord of the Flies having an illicit love affair on an acid trip. Their baby would be Red Rising. How do I fit a book like that on a 1-5 star rating scale?
Darrow is a Helldriver on Mars, drilling in mines with the belief that one day his people will live on the surface once the planet is ready. He and his people live under strict rules. While Darrow is more than happy to keep his head down and do his job, his wife Eo, has a different dream. She considers her people slaves to the Gold, the ruling class, and wants to take action to free them from their chains. Through a course of unfortunate events, Darrow finds himself on the surface disguised as a Gold, and with the help of other rebels, enrolls in the Academy with an ending goal to rise in the ranks of the Gold’s society. The only problem is that the school is literally a war among the students.
I was initially drawn to this book because of the interesting premise and the glowing early reviews from my friends on Goodreads. I was a little surprised to not have heard of this book, but was eager to find out what the fuss was about. The only thing that worried me was that a few of my more critical friends had either DNF’d or gave it a lower rating. As I started reading I could immediately see why so many gave up. Red Rising‘s beginning is very slow and often times a little dull. I did struggle through the first 100 pages and almost gave up myself a few times. Darrow isn’t the most interesting guy to read about in the beginning and I didn’t really connect well with him at first.
When Darrow goes through his transformation and enrolls in the school SHIT GOT REAL really fast. I don’t know what I was expecting when he got the academy. Desks, chairs, tests, teen drama on a grander scale, probably. What I didn’t expect was for Darrow’s first test to include killing a boy with his bare hands, placed in a House Mars with other killer teens with the expectation to conquer the other Houses through warfare. I mean, WHAT. That’s the part where I had to go back and re-read the blurb, because WHAT WAS I READING? (Let me just say I can see this all playing out marvelously on the big screen. No wonder they optioned it for a movie.)
So naturally I abandoned Real Life and become hopelessly addicted to the story. Darrow, a boy filled with rage due to the injustice placed on him as a Red, is placed in House Mars with a bunch of other hotheads and psychopaths. Due to their nature, it’s hard for them to agree on anything and the House quickly becomes divided with the stronger tribe being controlled by Titus. The House struggles to find food and water, some resorting to eating animals raw. Tensions continue to rise between the Housemates until it ultimately results in a few brutal deaths.
The Houses continue to battle between each other in a battlefield that resembles many High Fantasy stories, complete with castles and Grecian allusions, while their teachers watch on. For Darrow, winning this “game” means more than just getting a better career option in the Gold’s society like the other students. It means being in a position of power to help the rebels free the Reds from slavery. Over the course of months, battles are lost/won, enemies are made and alliances formed. Darrow begins to see that it’s not just Reds who are trapped within their color.
What I loved most about Red Rising was the action and premise. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that had such a jarring genre mesh up that actually works to the point where it feels like you’ve read two different books at once. The strategy of the battles and ambushes were well thought out, the characters were well-developed and the world building very rich, reminding me of The Bone Season. There are a lot of slang words that initially turned me off because there’s so much and each color (think: caste system) has their own. The terms blooddamn, glorydamn, and goodman were the three that seemed to annoy me the most, but by the end, I felt I really had a good grasp on it all.
I also enjoyed Darrow as a character and his development from a person who was willing to stay under the Golds’ boot to someone who was willing to poke the lion. I’m not sure at what point I started rooting for this guy, but by the end where Darrow is going HAM on everyone, I was completely entertained and couldn’t turn pages fast enough. He reminded me of Huntsalone from The Seven Realms series in that way due to how tactical he had become. I also have to agree with the other reviewers that say Darrow is a Gary Stu, Mary Sue’s more perfect and cuter brother. Ha. It’s so true. He’s one of those The One characters where it can only be him that brings the society to his knees. No other Red has gotten as far as him, who is as smart as him, has been this awesome. He does have his moments where he does fail and almost die, but for the most part he’s The One. I personally didn’t really care because I was having too much fun by the end, so there’s that.
If there is one thing that really bothered me it would be the way rape was handled in the story. I understand that in times of war this happens and I wasn’t bothered that it was included, but it was the way it was used to develop certain characters that did not sit well with me. This is one of the reasons why I’m just unsure what to rate Red Rising. The rape really bothered me to the point where I saw red, mainly because it was so unnecessary. But, at the same time, I did really enjoy the novel. I’ll go into that deeper in my spoiler tag.View Spoiler »Titus’ character was one that I felt lacked. His entire back story involves a tragedy where his wife was raped by Golds. So in an effort to gain revenge, he decides it’s only fair to rape Gold women from other Houses who were captured during different battles. This is not a great way to use rape in a story. Titus’ character is demonized and therefore viewed as unredeemable by the reader because he’s done The Ultimate Bad Thing by raping women. This later justifies his death and makes Darrow look like a savior.
Then, while Darrow and a female character are camping out in a cave, boys enter and sexually assault her while Darrow is away. He comes back to see her in her underwear tied up. He punishes these boys by hunting them down and killing them. Again, he is the awesome savior of women.
Later, another situation of almost rape comes up when Darrow is in charge and he’s left with the responsibility of punishing the criminal. Rape in that situation was used as the catalyst to make Darrow out to be The Ultimate Hero for stopping rape. Why is it that most of the Bad Guys are sexually assaulting women just for Darrow to come swooping in to the rescue? Using rape to condemn certain characters and raise others up is tasteless, in my opinion, and is a complete turn off. The sad thing is that Red Rising didn’t need any of it to show the brutality of the Academy’s warring Houses. There was enough killing to go around to prove that point. Having your female characters sexually assaulted just because they have vaginas and because rape must be the worst thing to happen to a woman is not the way to go. « Hide Spoiler
The ending was nothing short of entertaining. Lots of planning, revenge, battles and death. Just how I like my action. There really isn’t a cliffhanger, thank goodness, but I REALLY want to know what happens next. I’m wondering if Golden Son will have as much action given where Darrow is headed next, but Pierce Brown has convinced me that I need to stick around to find out what happens next. I would recommend this to mature YA readers as this is considered Adult with crossover appeal to the YA audience. If it feels like you’re stuck on those first 100 pages, take heart, the second half will blow your socks off, sucker punch you in the kidneys and feed your innards to the dogs. But you’ll like it.