Last month, Pierce Brown’s debut novel Red Rising was released by Ballantine Books touting a testimonial on its cover that almost made my eyes roll.
“Ender, Katniss, and now Darrow.”
Eyeroll because The Hunger Games has become the lasso to rope in readers and more often than not, the book doesn’t deliver. But they also stuck Ender Wiggin’s name in there, so in reality I couldn’t resist. I requested a review copy and then it sat on my Kindle untouched for over a month.
Eventually, I picked it up and unfortunately for the book, the first chapter didn’t grab me very tightly. I found the first 10% of the book to be annoyingly predictable. Lucky for me, I kept going back, still curious enough to learn more about this so-called superpower protagonist.
The story circles around sixteen-year-old Darrow, who is most certainly unlike most sixteen-year-olds I’ve come to dislike in young adult novels. Born a Red under the surface of Mars, in a future far beyond comprehension, Darrow is a Helldiver in Lykos. He mans the drill that harvests precious helium-3 that will help humanity terraform Mars for eventual human habitation.
After his world is turned upside down and everything taken from him, he is dealt yet another crushing blow when it’s revealed to him that the entire world he’s lived in is a cruel farce. Mars is hundreds of years past terraforming and humans bask in the glorious new world of Mars while billions of Reds, slaves to the Golds, toil under the surface under the guise that they strive for humanity’s progress. All of these crushing blows to Darrow give him the drive to do anything asked of him.
Thus begins his transformation, the details of which I will leave for you to discover yourself. Months later, a Red now made Gold, he applies for the Institute, where the best and brightest of the best and brightest are tested to determine who will rise into the ranks of the elite Peerless Scarred. He does all this to infiltrate the god-like Gold Society and bring revolution to the world from the lowReds.
Now, you may think that I’m giving away a whole lot of the story by writing this review, but the surprising and enjoyable thing about Brown’s writing is that he rockets the pacing along at a startling rate, never really slagging off once Darrow reaches the Institute. While Katniss Everdeen spent a week in the Arena, Darrow’s transformation and testing stretches over the course of more than a year, making such a pace not only necessary, but one of its most interesting draws for fans of The Hunger Games.
While Darrow and Katniss may fight for the same things, his Arena is shockingly massive and his fight for survival something to genuinely marvel at. Yet even with his harsh upbringing, he is still young. He makes stupid mistakes and has to constantly choke down the sullen and hostile Katniss within him. He does in fact possess that characteristic of Ender that makes people want to follow him, making this one of the few books to live up to the bait I initially scoffed at.
Modern readers will find hints of what Brown himself is a fan of. A quick name drop tells you he’s a fan of Ender’s Game. There are sprinklings of Harry Potter scattered in bits and pieces and teenage fans of Rick Riordian that have aged into adulthood will find Red Rising to be like Percy Jackson books smashed in with Game of Thrones brutality. These aren’t books for tweens and some teens, but if you can handle Game of Thrones, you can certainly handle Red Rising.
After finishing, I went looking and found a few high profile reviews with nothing but good things to say and one touted it as “Hollywood ready.” If that reviewer was referring to a movie, a single film would do Darrow’s story too much injustice. With characters like Mustang, Sevro, Cassius, Tactus, and Pax, a novel like this is prime territory for a cable television series.
I ended up plowing through the remaining 80% of the book at a gorydamn quick pace, getting to the end in just a day. Now my wait for Book 2’s release in 2015 begins. In the sad and crowded landscape of today’s young adult novels, Red rises to the top, making the lowDrafts look like slave fodder.
Regular visitors to Mockingjay.net know that I only recommend about 1-2 books a year: consider this my first of 2014. And if you’re wondering what’s with the use of strange words in this review, you’ll just have to read Red Rising and find out for your bloodydamn self.