Red Rising

God help me, so much science fiction. I picked up this guy on the recommendation of a friend. I love it when friend’s recommendations don’t let you down.

In the future, humanity has terraformed the planets and their moons in our solar system. But only some of humanity knows the other planets exist. We’ve devolved into a caste system, designated by our color. Golds occupy the top: beautiful, genetically altered, they are almost literal gods. Reds are on the bottom. Darrow is a Red, and he toils beneath Mars’ surface for Helium-3 because he has been told that it is needed to terraform the planets. That his sacrifice will better mankind. When his wife, Eo, is murdered by the aristocracy, Darrow all but gives up. But someone has plans for him.

After an unfair trial and execution, Darrow is rescued by the Sons of Ares, anarchists looking to end the brutal caste system. They cut him up and make him into a Gold to send him into their world and bring it down from the inside.

From there, he’s shipped off to the Institute, where The Hunger Games comparisons come fast and numerous because Darrow has to prove himself against a thousand other applicants. If you win: glory, a seat at the table, riches, and social advancement. And you guessed it, they have to duke it out with medieval style weapons for a while while the hosts watch and manipulate.

But Red Rising is no Hunger Games knockoff. Because it is just so much better. From the prose to the roaring battle scenes, Brown doesn’t let up for a second. Even his quiet scenes: emotional bonding, character development, and the calm before the storm just drip with tension. Because here is a spy in the midst. The Trojan horse talking, laughing, and killing. The characters are detailed, flawed, and varied. They get killed. A lot. Brutally. It feels like you’re reading a young adult dystopian novel right up to the point someone gets raped and someone else gets their head chopped off in all the gory details.

So Red Rising is much better than The Hunger Games. And if you don’t see it as a tv show or movie in the next few years, I owe someone some money. But it does feel like it has ambitions greater than its form allows. Which is ironic considering the character’s main goal. Here’s hoping the next book takes an unexpected turn away from the conventions of young adult literature and gives us more of the action and themes we expect from more adult fare.

3 out of 4 stars.

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