Thanks to the glut of dystopian fiction that already lines bookstore shelves, I couldn’t help being skeptical when I first heard the ardent praise for Pierce Brown’s Red Rising. The book has been repeatedly compared to the likes of Ender’s Game, The Lord of the Rings, and, of course, The Hunger Games. Since its release just under a year ago, the novel has found itself on the New York Times Best Seller List and already has a seven-figure movie deal with Universal Studios. So is the hype justified?
Yes. Yes, I believe it is.
The book tells the tale of Darrow, a 16-year-old boy born as a Red, the lowest tier in his society’s colour-coded caste system. Forced into living deep under the surface of Mars, the Reds are made to toil in the hopes that their labour will help terraform the planet into a place that is habitable for future generations. Little do they know that Mars was made livable ages ago and is now inhabited by the upper classes, all of whom are ruled by the “Golds”. Motivated by the loss of his wife and a burning hatred for the oppressive Golds, Darrow is recruited by a group of rebels in order to infiltrate and destroy the Gold regime from the inside.
Despite my initial wariness, Red Rising impressed me. The story was intense and action-packed for the most part, but it did have some issues with pacing. The first few chapters have a lot of description and are riddled with jargon. We’re introduced to our protagonist as well as his immediate family and the world in which they live. The amount of description seems justified here because of all the new information being thrown at you. However, the unique slang can trip you up at first and needs to be puzzled out through contextual cues unless specifically explained by the narrator. All of this leads to a rather slow beginning, but once you get the hang of interpreting the story’s jargon, you realize how intricate the world Brown has created is. Some might complain, but I personally love having little world-building details that allow a better understanding of the narrative’s universe. If that means that the story is the tiniest bit slow in the beginning, then I’m okay with it.
But it’s the characters that really bring this story to life. While one might argue that Katniss Everdeen is essentially the same person at the end of her saga, there is absolutely no denying Darrow’s growth throughout Red Rising. He is both physically and psychologically transformed by the trials he endures. However, it was Brown’s colourful cast of supporting characters that I truly fell in love with. Despite his initial hatred for all Golds, Darrow soon discovers that life, even in the ruling class, isn’t quite as idyllic as he once believed. He finds friendship in people he should hate, people who wouldn’t have looked at him twice if they’d known of his lowly birth. He forges bonds with characters who are cold, calculating, and incredibly obnoxious while also being thoroughly likeable. Brown’s ability to juggle all the different sides to his plethora of characters is a testament to his skill as a writer.
Notwithstanding the pacing, I thoroughly enjoyed Red Rising. Even as I turned the last page, I knew I had to get my hands on the second book. That’s right: Red Rising is only the first instalment in a trilogy of the same name. The second book, Golden Son, has just come out, and I only hope it’s as good as the first.