RATING: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Dystopia is dead.
Okay, no. Not really, but I am positive the YA community is over dystopia. Just like they are over vampire books. There’s a new wave of YA novels making the scene (quirky-John-Green-esque teen fiction) that will certainly over-saturate the market till we’re all screaming, “Okay? Okay! OKAY!” in a series of inflections to communicate. For Red Rising, it should have peaked in its small little subset of the genre, and quietly wasted away under ash and nuclear fallout of the post-apocalyptic dystopian world.
Much like Darrow, the book would not stay down.
Red Rising is sci-fi fantasy that takes place in our somewhat distant future. The Earth is dying, died, is dead, and a group of people set off for Mars, living for generations under its surface mining for precious materials to terraform Mars’ surface for the people of Earth to live. Darrow is one of those miners. It’s not until his life is decimated that he is recruited by the Sons of Ares (a revolutionary group) who show him that the surface of Mars has been thriving, and the Reds (Darrow’s people) have been enslaved for hundreds of years unknowingly. Darrow is then pressed into infiltrating the academy where Golds (the highest race of people on Mars) send their sons and daughters to fight and become the next generals, ambassadors, and overall rulers of the people of Mars.
Big shoes for little Red miner, Darrow, to fill.
Red Rising is the Hunger Games on steroids. This book spends at least two-thirds of its pages following Darrow in this fight-to-the-death arena game with the Golds. It’s brutal, it’s rough, it’s cringe-worthy, and I loved every minute of it. The plot in this, while minimal and barely moving forward (not a lot of stakes, and not a lot of defined stakes for our main character) it is compelling enough to not bother the reader. Much.
There are many reviews out there that discredit Darrow as a Gary Stu (and I see it, I do) but more often than not, he thinks and acts like any other kid who has been forced to use his skills of his environment and upbringing against those who are his enemy. So yeah, he’s super fast, with inhuman strength, and oh—he has the ability to strategize like a boss. But guess what? So do the other Golds. We are forced into Darrow’s perspective, but other Golds like Mustang, The Jackal, Cassius: they are just as fast, strong, and intelligent. Even Sevro (who reminded me so much of Nico from the Percy Jackson series) is a militaristic genius. You would have to discredit all of those characters too if you believed Darrow was too much of a convenience for the story.
The biggest flaw of this book (re: four stars instead of five) was the role of the Sons of Ares. They spent their time, money, and effort creating Darrow into Gold for infiltration. But once Darrow was inside the Institute, 90% of his thoughts and actions never referenced the revolution. Yes, the Sons of Ares expected a long haul, covert operation with Darrow—none of this ‘in and out, take down the Golds in a matter of weeks’ sort of thing—but they never contacted him. They never had a rendezvous point, or other members reaching out to Darrow. I just couldn’t believe they just dropped him off in a hornets’ nest with only a “good luck, see you in a few years!”
A lot of Darrow’s success was the hinge in which the revolution for the Reds rested on. How could you not protect that investment or trust that he would get done what he needed to do?
It was frustrating, to say the least.
However, I expected some really genre-stereotypical dystopian junk from this book. Instead I was pleasantly surprised by the storytelling, and a few plot twists that kept me thinking what the next book has in store. Brown is certainly not done with Darrow’s story, and neither am I.
In the end, the tl;dr—a great new sci-fi dystopia, that isn’t the same crap you’ve probably read while trying to find a book to fill the hole the Hunger Games left you with.
This book is the first part in a series.
IF YOU LIKED THIS BOOK, YOU MIGHT LIKE: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Half Bad by Sally Green, Bitter Seeds by Ian Tregillis