Friday, August 28, 2015

Red Rising by Pierce Brown (Red Rising #1)

Red Rising
by Pierce Brown

Paperback, 416 pages
Published July 15, 2014 by Del Ray (First edition published in January 2014)
Genre: Science Fiction, Adventure
Series: Red Rising Trilogy #1
Awards: Goodreads Choice Award for Best Debut 
               Goodreads Author, 2014
               Alex Awards Nominee, 2015

MLA: Brown, Pierce. Red Rising. New York: Del Ray, 2014. Print. ISBN-13: 978-0345539809. Paperback, $14.00.

Find it in your local library!

When Darrow, whose lowborn caste mined the underground depths of Mars for generations with the promise of a better future on the terraformed surface, discovers that his entire life has been a lie, he must decide whether to continue toiling as a slave or risk his life to infiltrate the upper class and incite a revolution.

Humanity has long ago conquered the stars. Earth lost a violent civil war against the pioneers of Luna, and humans have finally made it to Mars. In this new reality, democracy is abandoned for a more rigid social caste system of haves and have-nots, coded by the colors of the Earth they have long since left behind. Powerful families of Golds rule with an iron fist, while for centuries the Reds are born and bred to slave away in the dangerous mines under the Martian crust, clinging to the Golds’ promise of a future in which they will inhabit the terraformed surface.

Problem is, that future is already here. The Reds just don’t know it.

The best Helldiver in his mining colony, sixteen-year-old Darrow works hard at the hazardous mining trade to support his loving, idealistic young wife Eo, though the inequitable compensation he receives is as unfair as the oppressive decrees under which the Reds live. Darrow certainly recognizes the system’s injustice, but unlike Eo, he finds a way to reconcile his frustration with the mostly happy existence they have created for themselves. When Eo sacrifices her life in a small but momentous act of defiance against the Golds, Darrow’s carefully constructed world is shattered and replaced with grief and hollow rage. He buries Eo’s body in his own act of rebellion, and like his wife, he is sentenced to death.

Except Darrow does not die. A subversive rebel group known as the Sons of Ares rescues Darrow and offers him the chance to seek justice for his people. They show him the beautiful surface city full of wealth and excess, built on the broken backs of Darrow’s ancestors. They ask him to transform himself into a Gold, to become in body the kind that heartlessly stole from him his only source of happiness, so that he can enter the world of the Gold elite and destroy their society from within. Eo’s dream becomes Darrow’s single-minded purpose, and the painstaking process begins to turn him into the thing he hates the most.

Dismantling the Golds will take every ounce of Darrow’s strength, and he believes he’s ready. But does a lowly Red have what it takes to bring them to their knees?


For the most part, this book was awesome. There was a lot of hype around Red Rising when it first came out about it being the next Hunger Games, Ender's Game, and even Lord of the Flies. Sure, there were recognizable moments that recalled the games in The Hunger Games and (much to my delight) the sorting hat in Harry Potter, but they were just moments -- Red Rising stands firmly on its own two feet.

I can't say too much about what happens after my booktalk ends because spoilers (it might seem like I said a lot here but the author covers a lot very quickly to set up the story that follows), but if this book seems to start out slow, it picks up significantly after the events described above. The world-building is fantastic, and even though the author's writing is clean and simple, it packs an emotional punch when it matters most. The secondary characters are fleshed out enough to make you really care about them, and Darrow himself is not a perfect hero, which is refreshing. I am also a sucker for a good political drama, and Red Rising definitely hit the mark.

There's a lot more I could say about this book that I loved, but I want to cover one major issue here, and that is the treatment of women in Red Rising.

First of all, Darrow's wife Eo literally exists to be a catalyst to spur him into action. Her death feels sudden and unnecessary until you realize that she died so that Darrow might get angry enough to take action against the way his people are treated. I don't really understand why Eo couldn't have been the hero of the story, given that Darrow doesn't seem to have anywhere near the backbone she does until she basically commits suicide to make him angry (smells a little sexist, though I don't think that was the author's intention). A lot of bloggers seem to agree with me on this point, and the next.

Briefly: rape as a plot device is not okay. As readers, we need to be paying attention to characters for who they are, not just what happens to them, and turning female characters into victims to push the story forward is both misogynistic and lazy storytelling. I understand the situation in which this type of violence occurs in the book and recognize that, in the context, it makes some small amount of sense to include it.


Women should NOT be made into victims solely to give a male character something to fight against. The physical and emotional fallout of sexual assault is not given any voice in Red Rising outside of how Darrow feels about it, and frankly, I do not care how Darrow feels about it. Men should not pat themselves on the back because they are horrified by or would never commit rape -- we ALL should be horrified, and to make basic human decency a "heroic" quality is wrong. I definitely wouldn't not read or recommend this book for this reason, but it gave me pause enough that I felt it should be mentioned.

That said, I just got the second book in the trilogy, Golden Son, in the mail and I'm really excited to read it. Hopefully the author rectifies the misogyny as the series continues, because it really was my only complaint about this book (though not a small one). Recommended for older teens (15+) because of the violence and aforementioned themes. Dystopia and sci-fi fans especially will find Red Rising a very worthy member of the canon.

There's a song in Red Rising called Persephone's Song that is REALLY important to the plot, especially in the beginning. Author Pierce Brown singled out this version on Facebook, and it's very much the kind of folk tune that I imagined as I was reading:

This Tumblr titled Red Rising Reminds Me is pretty hilarious, as it makes comparisons between Red Rising and other books, movies, TV shows, history, etc. This is one to look at after you're done reading -- not that there's really any major spoilers, but it won't make sense until after you finish the book. Definitely worth checking out though, I lol'd.

Finally, the Red Rising website, which is pretty cool in itself, features a "draft" to determine which house you would be in (I'm in house Juno).

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