Title: Red Rising (Red Rising Trilogy, #1)
Author: Pierce Brown
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Release Date: January 28th, 2014
From the moment I finished Red Rising I knew I wanted to review it. Unfortunately, I also knew that words could do no justice to the sheer scope of the story contained between the gender neutral covers of Red Rising. And yet, I persisted. I wrote draft after draft, introduction after introduction, trying so desperately to get it right, to articulate what made this novel work when dozens of other dystopian series had failed for me. I wanted to write this review, not because I was required to by a publisher or needed to for a blog tour but rather because I wanted readers to pick up this book and just immerse themselves in the raw, brutal, but intelligent world Brown had created. Just to lose themselves in the onslaught of emotions and finish a post-apocalyptic novel loving not only the characters, but also loving the flood of new thoughts, knowledge, and queries that the book forced.
Darrow, the protagonist of our tale, is a Red. In other words, he is a slave working beneath the surface of Mars to make the surface habitable for human occupation. For generations his family has lived in brutal, harsh conditions sacrificing their sweat and blood for the sake of humanity. After a series of events, however, Darrow uncovers the startling truth that the surface of Mars has been habitable for generations, ruled by Golds who leave the Reds underground, unable to enjoy the fruition of their labor. With nothing to lose and ruled by the hatred in his heart, Darrow trains to join the Golds, become one of them and infiltrate them from within, seeking the revenge he and his people so desperately deserve. In his plan to join a command school, however, Darrow doesn't realize that the school is a literal battlefield and in order to prove himself, he has to win...
While I hesitate to slap the "Young Adult" label on Red Rising, I do not hesitate to credit Brown with his impeccable writing style and meticulous world-building. Full of creativity and originality, the society Brown has created is deeply political, rooted in corruption but still thriving. It's a nation with imperfections deep within and by starting from the bottom but rising, slowly, to the top from Red to Gold we're able to glean a complete picture of the world at hand. Moreover, Brown paces his reveals gradually, taking time to develop his characters and, most of all, their growth. Darrow's own story is split into stages, realistically molding him from an ignorant Red to a furious Red to a vengeful Gold and then into a true weapon. Brown doesn't hesitate to reveal the ugliness to his society, but he also doesn't hesitate to uncover the positives - positives which throw Darrow off his game and force him to accept that not all Golds are evil, admissions which make his task that much harder.
While Red Rising starts off underground, the bulk of this novel is based on a battlefield. Although Darrow's transformation from a Red to a Gold is fascinating, as is his journey to joining a command school full of Golds, the true genius of this story emerges once Darrow has been accepted and after he is thrown into a war. Granted, there are proctors to watch over the events of this war but, for the most part, it is an all-out strategic affair between the students as they compete for the prized position of Primus. Darrow's growth simply within this "war" is astounding. Where he once held no power as a Red, he is now is possession of a tremendous store of power as a Gold. Moreover, he is handsome, strong, and charismatic - qualities that make him a prime leader - but ruling isn't as easy as he expects. Although he makes loyal friends, he also makes sworn enemies and as he travels from being on the top to once again sinking to the bottom, as he tries different methods of winning over men and keeping his armies, he grows into a deadly tool for he is quick to learn from his mistakes and driven, motivated to achieve his true purpose no matter what.
Much of Darrow's inspiration comes from his wife, Eo. Darrow is, first and foremost, a feminist male narrator. All that means is that he respects women, takes their advice and opinions into consideration, and never looks down upon them. For him, Eo was a source of wisdom and guidance like no other and even among the Golds, this mentality never changes. Red Rising, with its gender neutral cover and male narration, will appeal to audiences of all ages, regardless of gender. As such, I am thrilled to see that this novel acknowledges women as equal without explicitly drawing attention to that fact. It is merely another part of the story, which I appreciate, though it sends a truly positive message to readers (one rather contrary than the gender stereotypes we are flooded with from the media on a day-to-day basis). Additionally, the romance in this novel is minimal at best. It isn't a focus - not in the least - and although I am curious to see its arc throughout the series, I remain most intrigued by the political shifts yet to come.
Although the characters of Red Rising are young, Brown never shies away from tackling difficult subjects and, most of all, he forces his readers to think, to truly consider the best ways in which power can be used. Brown's debut may suffer from a bit of a lag in certain areas, but with the exception of those minor pacing flaws, it is a truly enticing novel, one to watch out for, pre-order, and count the days till. With just one book Brown has already made me a life-long fan - experiencing a rush of emotions just as fictional characters do will do that to you - and I am already staring at my calendar anxiously so that my finished copy of Red Rising will arrive and I can read it; again and again and again.