This is the first review I've ever written where I'm leaving a book unrated. I both loved and hated this book equally. There were parts that really fr...moreThis is the first review I've ever written where I'm leaving a book unrated. I both loved and hated this book equally. There were parts that really frustrated me, bored me, excited me, and completely hooked me. I'm not even sure what Red Rising is really classified as. One half of the book feels very Dystopian/sci-fi while the other half reads like an entirely different genre, perhaps High Fantasy. If I were to even attempt to describe what this book is I'd say image Gladiator and Lord of the Flies having an illicit love affair on an acid trip. Their baby would be Red Rising. How do I fit a book like that on a 1-5 star rating scale?
Darrow is a Helldriver on Mars, drilling in mines with the belief that one day his people will live on the surface once the planet is ready. He and his people live under strict rules. While Darrow is more than happy to keep his head down and do his job, his wife Eo, has a different dream. She considers her people slaves to the Gold, the ruling class, and wants to take action to free them from their chains. Through a course of unfortunate events, Darrow finds himself on the surface disguised as a Gold, and with the help of other rebels, enrolls in the Academy with an ending goal to rise in the ranks of the Gold's society. The only problem is that the school is literally a war among the students.
I was initially drawn to this book because of the interesting premise and the glowing early reviews from my friends on Goodreads. I was a little surprised to not have heard of this book, but was eager to find out what the fuss was about. The only thing that worried me was that a few of my more critical friends had either DNF'd or gave it a lower rating. As I started reading I could immediately see why so many gave up. Red Rising's beginning is very slow and often times a little dull. I did struggle through the first 100 pages and almost gave up myself a few times. Darrow isn't the most interesting guy to read about in the beginning and I didn't really connect well with him at first.
When Darrow goes through his transformation and enrolls in the school SHIT GOT REAL really fast. I don't know what I was expecting when he got the academy. Desks, chairs, tests, teen drama on a grander scale, probably. What I didn't expect was for Darrow's first test to include killing a boy with his bare hands, placed in a House Mars with other killer teens with the expectation to conquer the other Houses through warfare. I mean, WHAT. That's the part where I had to go back and re-read the blurb, because WHAT WAS I READING? (Let me just say I can see this all playing out marvelously on the big screen. No wonder they optioned it for a movie.)
So naturally I abandoned Real Life and become hopelessly addicted to the story. Darrow, a boy filled with rage due to the injustice placed on him as a Red, is placed in House Mars with a bunch of other hotheads and psychopaths. Due to their nature, it's hard for them to agree on anything and the House quickly becomes divided with the stronger tribe being controlled by Titus. The House struggles to find food and water, some resorting to eating animals raw. Tensions continue to rise between the Housemates until it ultimately results in a few brutal deaths.
The Houses continue to battle between each other in a battlefield that resembles many High Fantasy stories, complete with castles and Grecian allusions, while their teachers watch on. For Darrow, winning this "game" means more than just getting a better career option in the Gold's society like the other students. It means being in a position of power to help the rebels free the Reds from slavery. Over the course of months, battles are lost/won, enemies are made and alliances formed. Darrow begins to see that it's not just Reds who are trapped within their color.
What I loved most about Red Rising was the action and premise. I don't think I've ever read a book that had such a jarring genre mesh up that actually works to the point where it feels like you've read two different books at once. The strategy of the battles and ambushes were well thought out, the characters were well-developed and the world building very rich, reminding me of The Bone Season. There are a lot of slang words that initially turned me off because there's so much and each color (think: caste system) has their own. The terms blooddamn, glorydamn, and goodman were the three that seemed to annoy me the most, but by the end, I felt I really had a good grasp on it all.
I also enjoyed Darrow as a character and his development from a person who was willing to stay under the Golds' boot to someone who was willing to poke the lion. I'm not sure at what point I started rooting for this guy, but by the end where Darrow is going HAM on everyone, I was completely entertained and couldn't turn pages fast enough. He reminded me of Huntsalone from The Seven Realms series in that way due to how tactical he had become. I also have to agree with the other reviewers that say Darrow is a Gary Stu, Mary Sue's more perfect and cuter brother. Ha. It's so true. He's one of those The One characters where it can only be him that brings the society to his knees. No other Red has gotten as far as him, who is as smart as him, has been this awesome. He does have his moments where he does fail and almost die, but for the most part he's The One. I personally didn't really care because I was having too much fun by the end, so there's that.
If there is one thing that really bothered me it would be the way rape was handled in the story. I understand that in times of war this happens and I wasn't bothered that it was included, but it was the way it was used to develop certain characters that did not sit well with me. This is one of the reasons why I'm just unsure what to rate Red Rising. The rape really bothered me to the point where I saw red, mainly because it was so unnecessary. But, at the same time, I did really enjoy the novel. I'll go into that deeper in my spoiler tag.
(view spoiler)[Titus' character was one that I felt lacked. His entire back story involves a tragedy where his wife was raped by Golds. So in an effort to gain revenge, he decides it's only fair to rape Gold women from other Houses who were captured during different battles. This is not a great way to use rape in a story. Titus' character is demonized and therefore viewed as unredeemable by the reader because he's done The Ultimate Bad Thing by raping women. This later justifies his death and makes Darrow look like a savior.
Then, while Darrow and a female character are camping out in a cave, boys enter and sexually assault her while Darrow is away. He comes back to see her in her underwear tied up. He punishes these boys by hunting them down and killing them. Again, he is the awesome savior of women.
Later, another situation of almost rape comes up when Darrow is in charge and he's left with the responsibility of punishing the criminal. Rape in that situation was used as the catalyst to make Darrow out to be The Ultimate Hero for stopping rape. Why is it that most of the Bad Guys are sexually assaulting women just for Darrow to come swooping in to the rescue? Using rape to condemn certain characters and raise others up is tasteless, in my opinion, and is a complete turn off. The sad thing is that Red Rising didn't need any of it to show the brutality of the Academy's warring Houses. There was enough killing to go around to prove that point. Having your female characters sexually assaulted just because they have vaginas and because rape must be the worst thing to happen to a woman is not the way to go. (hide spoiler)]
The ending was nothing short of entertaining. Lots of planning, revenge, battles and death. Just how I like my action. There really isn't a cliffhanger, thank goodness, but I REALLY want to know what happens next. I'm wondering if Golden Son will have as much action given where Darrow is headed next, but Pierce Brown has convinced me that I need to stick around to find out what happens next. I would recommend this to mature YA readers as this is considered Adult with crossover appeal to the YA audience. If it feels like you're stuck on those first 100 pages, take heart, the second half will blow your socks off, sucker punch you in the kidneys and feed your innards to the dogs. But you'll like it.
ARC was provided by the publisher for an honest review. No monies or gifts were exchanged.
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I've debated on what I should write in this review space. Usually I'm a pretty sarcastic person, flinging jokes left and right to entertain during wha...moreI've debated on what I should write in this review space. Usually I'm a pretty sarcastic person, flinging jokes left and right to entertain during what could be a really dull review. But for this, I'm less inclined to since I'm close to the source material, witnessed the production of this book and contributed two pieces.
This is a non-profit book, so none of the contributors are making any money from this production. You can buy it for $.99 (it's the lowest price LuLu let us set it) or you can read it for free here.
So I'll just ramble about my Random Off Topic Feelings.
I've been dealing with Goodreads/author drama for two years now. And I remember when I first joined Goodreads, I didn't know that authors were even on this site, let alone reading reviews. My thought was, "WHY? Why would a person want to read my insignificant thoughts on their book?" At the time, my reviews existed only to entertain myself and my very small group of friends. It was fun and exciting to find people who loved to read as much as I did, so it's no surprise that Goodreads quickly became my favorite Internet place to visit. But then the drama started, and little by little I found my joy for reviewing dwindling.
I don't review or read as much as I used to, which has me feeling some kind of way. I'm ashamed to admit that I've struggled writing reviews. I second guess words or phrases. Will the author flip out over this one star review? Will the author send his/her band of loyal fans to downvote my review on Amazon? Is this review too controversial? Will someone accuse me of bullying someone? It's maddening. It's gotten to the point where I cringe sometimes when I see a notification on certain reviews. There were already too many fucking people in my review space... and now there's Goodreads too.
I won't lie that I feel personally betrayed and hurt by how Goodreads has done a few things. Some of that stems from things that aren't publicly known (and they'll stay that way, so don't even begin to ask me) and some of it from the part of me that is just fed up with being singled out. It's happened a little too often for my liking this year and I'm just so over the bullshit.
This is getting rather depressing, so I'll make my point. Seeing the production of this book has reminded me why I love the people on Goodreads when I was starting to forget. To see first hand the determination and dedication from people who I've followed and admired for years was incredible. Their drive and motivation to continue on and power through when I felt my own waning is inspiring. These are my people with their flaws, controversies, passion, sophistication, crude humor, sarcasm, irrelevance, brilliance. In true Pitch Perfect flavor:
I got to around 26% before I DNFed. It's not that it's a terrible book because it's definitely not on Starcrossed or Fallen's level. But I did feel th...moreI got to around 26% before I DNFed. It's not that it's a terrible book because it's definitely not on Starcrossed or Fallen's level. But I did feel the writing and characters lacked a certain bit of depth that I prefer. Otherborn does have a very interesting premise, but it failed at building the right amount of anticipation to hold my attention. (less)
Whenever I look at What's Left of Me and Once We Were's covers, I can't help but to think that the cover artist truly gets this series and how clever...more Whenever I look at What's Left of Me and Once We Were's covers, I can't help but to think that the cover artist truly gets this series and how clever he/she is. This always gets me excited because I love seeing the cover actually mean something to the book. As much as I love pretty dresses, it's the depth and complexity that I really crave. It's the kind of cover that you don't quite understand just by looking at it, but as you start reading, pieces of the puzzle fall into place. If What's Left of Me's cover shows Eve, the recessive soul, struggling to find her voice and strength, then Once We Were depicts two souls (the outlines of the face), two distinct personalities, searching for their own identities. But how independent can you be from someone who you share a body with? Someone who has a different set of hopes, dreams and goals? And what if you were the recessive, finally in charge of some of the bigger decisions? How do you cope with the newfound responsibility? And what if you screw up?
"Maybe I really had been meant to fade away."
In Once We Were Addie and Eva are presented with something they'd never thought were possible: the ability to "go under", where one soul would purposefully fall into an unconscious slumber to allow the other privacy. This works out well for relationship purposes, allowing Eva and Ryan some much needed alone time (because, yikes!, talk about awkward when you're trying to make-out with your boyfriend), but it also allowed something Addie and Eva never really encountered before, keeping secrets. And unfortunately, those very secrets continued to push them further and further away from each other.
And unlike in What's Left of Me, I found myself growing increasingly more frustrated with Eva as she and Addie continued to go in different directions. Their chemistry, bond and fierce determination for one another was what made it easy to connect with their story. But this time around Eva, who now gets a taste of freedom, becomes very wrapped up in the plans for a revolution that she forgets to pay attention to Addie. It's interesting how the two have switched roles in that regard and how it's Addie who begins to take more of a backseat. It's also interesting how different they really are and how little I realized this in book one.
“But the thing is, sharing hands doesn't mean sharing goals. Sharing eyes doesn't mean sharing visions. And sharing a heart doesn't mean sharing the things we love.”
I'll admit, it was difficult for me to connect with Eva due to the decisions she made and risks she took. However, Once We Were was Eva's time to find out who she is, and in that search, mistakes were to be expected. My biggest issue was the fact that she continued putting not only herself and her sister in danger, but the people who rescued her and her friends as well.
As soon as an opportunity arrived for Eva to be apart of something big where she could help change the system, she stopped thinking things through, started keep secrets, lying to those who cared about her, agreeing to compromising situations that put her sister at risk. At times, I started having conversations in my mind with Eva, going all Uncle Ben on her: "With great power, comes great responsibility." Yada, yada, yada. But I had to keep reminding myself that this is a character who isn't used to making such HUGE decisions. The redeeming factor is that she does recognize how terribly she's been to her sister and to others. She does try and fix her mistake at great sacrifice to her own person. So, Eva is far from being a terrible character, but Once We Were does show her flaws more, and sometimes at a more frustrating degree.
As expected, Kat Zhang's writing is beautiful, fluid and mesmerizing. It was one of the things that caused me to fall in love with What's Left of Me and I was so happy to see that continue here. This time around we were also treated to some sections of prose that's written in verse to show the passage of time when Eva "goes under." During that time the verses had a whimsical quality, that made me think of
in a pool
hot summer day
relaxing in the sun
Still, Once We Were didn't capture my attention the same way What's Left of Me did, and I did struggle a little to get hooked. Thankfully, the last third does pick up, but I was disappointed to have waited so long for it to do so.
What I was really curious for was more world building. I wanted to know how the rest of the world views hybrids, and since Eva and Addie's knowledge is limited, so is the reader's. This time around there we have a new character named Henri from central Africa who's able to give us a small glimpse at how the other nations few the Americas. However, their conversations are few and far between and I would have loved to know more about the other countries' views on hybrids. I'm hoping that'll be discussed more in book 3.
Final thought: Once We Were mainly focuses on Eva and Addie as individuals instead of just one person. They spend more time apart, losing the connection I had with them from What's Left of Me. But I do think this experience has really brought them closer and has set the stage for the final book in the series. With so many questions remaining unanswered, I'm eager to find out what happens next!