Mens Rea's Reviews > Red Rising

Red Rising by Pierce Brown
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3.5 stars*
This review was originally posted on my blog: My Bookshelf Dialogues
What this book is about:
Life as a Red is a daily struggle, a constant laboring endeavour to mine and work, a grind to extract precious Helium-3 from the depths of the red planet's subterranean field. Earth is dying. Reds are the chosen ones, the brave people that are meant to prepare Mars for Earthens to survive on it. And Darrow is one of the best HellDivers the Reds have. He knows how to survive in this harsh, unforgiving life and he will do anything for his people, anything for those that he loves. In a cruel turn of events, Darrow discovers that the Reds have been lied to. Mars has already been habituated and thrived on by humanity generations ago. Darrow sees that there Reds are mere slaves. And he knows he is the only one that can help the Reds rise.

Pierce Brown's debut novel is probably the best debut book I've read this year. There it is, a bold statement. But I said it and I meant it. Red Rising is the story of Darrow, a 16-year-old boy who mines under the surface of planet Mars with hopes of saving humanity from dying Earth. We experience a first person narration that essentially speaks of rage, rebellion and making monsters of men. Marketed and oftentimes read as a young adult science fiction novel, one would expect - after hearing it over and over again - that they are about to read the next Hunger Games. As an adult who finds herself regularly - too regularly - disappointed by YA fiction, I can safely recommend this vile tale to adults who are not phased by foul language, gory images and atrocious fictional scenes.
"Power must be claimed. Wealth won. Rule, dominion, empire purchased with food. You scarless children deserve nothing. You do not know pain. You do not know what your forefathers sacrificed to place you on these heights. But soon, you will. Soon, we will teach you why Gold rules mankind. And I promise, of those among you, only those fit for power will survive.

In a world where the Hunger Games had not yet hit the shelves, Red Rising would have had a much greater success, as it's reader appeal is hindered by marketing phrases of the sort "Ender, Katniss and now Darrow." It seems, reasonably, that all dystopian stories chew on the same basic principles as their predecessors and then spit out the same end result. I am not here to tell you that Red Rising is different, an innovative idea of never-before-read storyline. No. The basic premise on which Pierce Brown stepped on to compose his novel squats many layers upon layers and under these coating, down at the foundation, is the mother novel of Suzzane Collins. Even smaller ideas deep inside the vast plotline - I'm talking now about mini decorative elements - can successfully be found in the earlier YA dystopian works. But, if by now you are thinking that this is not something you are interested in, that there can only be so many successful YA dystopians, that after the Hunger Games nothing really can reach that level, that you didn't even like the Hunger Games that much...I do understand. What I would like to discuss here is that there is more to Red Rising than the face value of "just another YAD=YA dystopian novel".
He thinks men like me weak. He think me dumb, feeble, subhuman. I was not raised in palaces. I did not ride horses through meadows and eat meals of hummingbird tongues. I was forged in the bowels of this hard world. Sharpened by hate. Strengthened by love.
He is wrong.

One of the most exciting facts I can give you about this novel is that it's a debut lacking all the elements that makes "a debut". Darrow's story is a bold one. Pierce Brown integrated his mad idea into other, pre-existing ones and started building on it. As a debut author, it is often observed that there is a time when your book lifts its head, looks you in the eyes and starts rising. It becomes overwhelming. Your idea, sometimes, might feel a bit too much. Brown grabbed his novel by the balls and twisted them so hard that it yielded to him completely. Here is a man, publishing his first novel that reads like a mature piece of fictitious work. It's incredible really and I strongly feel I need to praise him for it.
I've been in the mined for three years. You start at thirteen. Old enough to screw, old enough to crew. At least that's what Uncle Narol said. Except I didn't get married till six months back, so I don't know why he said it.

To place it simply, Red Rising is so much fun. It's one of the most amusing novels I've read this year to the point that I yearned to pick it up every day and read on. The ideas and themes that Pierce Brown introduces are easy to follow and build on topics that I've really enjoyed as a child. The Gods of Ancient Rome and Ancient Greece. Olympus. Beautiful men and women fighting for power. An exciting competition combining a fight for survival. Oh yes, bring it on! That's the kind of stuff I was dying for as a teenager and it seems that I still am. One of the criticisms I've read over and over again for Red Rising is that it was dragging on and on. To me, Pierce Brown demonstrated excellent pacing and unravelling of his novel by slowly and unhurriedly peeling out layers off the core in such a professional, well-thought of manner. It's like scratching at a wound in such a meticulously paceful manner that it only results in utter satisfaction without ever reaching the point of annoying itchiness or hurtful burn.
"Reember the words of our golden leader. Patience and obedience, young one. Patience is the better part of valor. And obedience the better part of humanity. Listen to your elders."

Now that we have the gashing part out of the way, let's talk about the aspects in which this story fell short. Darrow, Darrow, Darrow. You know, if I was a 14-year-old boy, Darrow would be my hero. He would be the best thing about this book as an aspiring figure. If I was a 14-year-old girl, I would be madly in love with Darrow. Adolescents, as psychology books say, are particularly self-centered. We've all been there, it's just the healthy adolescent brain dealing with an overwhelming environment. But man oh man, does Darrow have an inflated sense of self-importance in this book. Darrow is the one, you know which one, the chosen one! Darrow can fight bears, Darrow is the best, Darrow is the man, Darrow is the god! I wonder where we've seen that before. Oh yes, only in every single YA dystopian/fantasy/sci-fi book on the planet. So here's what happens when you make a character so astonishingly perfect. He is not relatable anymore to us, the mortal readers who have grown out of our self-centered adolescence. Here is where this novel lost many point in my review book. When you build a story around a character that is supposed to feel relatable, the messiah of his people, but then he turns out to be beyond everyone in his god-like perfection.
They don;t care that we dance or that we sing, so long as we obediently dig. So long as we prepare the planet for the rest of them. Yet to remind us of our place, they make one song and one dance punishable by death.

So if the Reds are the saviours, the ones who are working to prepare the terrain for Earthens to survive then why do they have to be under the command of the Golds? Why aren't they working because they want to save Earth, as volunteers? I could use some help swallowing this first part of the story here in which Darrow comes from the Reds who don't really seem to have a very affectionate relationship as a community and yet we are repeatedly told they must obay. Maybe the problem here is the emphasis on showing submissiveness and dominance, the powerplay, instead of making sure we get to really experience the tight binds that tie Darrow and his people. Afterall, this story is built on Darrow going out to bring the Reds freedom and justice. But it feels like Pierce Brown failed to really create this atmosphere of love and companionship in his initial chapters which is sad because he is obviously a force to be reckoned with. His authorship is praiseworthy later on.
A nightmare is coming to my heart. I can feel it like a nail dragged along the bones of my spine as she murmurs an epigram in my ear. "Break the chains, my love."

Looking at the whole picture, this is quite an enjoyable read. Excellent pace and inventive plot, lively, mostly unlikeable characters, an resourceful perspective on some regurgitated ideas, a jolly great, fun time of a novel! I will definitely be picking up the rest of the books in the series and I strongly recommend you give Red Rising a try, even though you might be somewhat hesitant. As a last word, I'd like to praise the wonderfully narrated and executed audiobook and to suggest to anyone who enjoys listening to their books, like I do, to consider an audio experience of Red Rising.
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Reading Progress

August 13, 2015 – Shelved
August 13, 2015 – Shelved as: to-read
November 4, 2016 – Started Reading
November 4, 2016 –
page 33
8.64% "So far this has been cruel, raw, darkly humorous and quite imaginative. A colony on Mars, a dystopian sociaty rotten to its core. I've heard lots of great things about Red Rising and I'm plunging in keeping an open mind!"
November 7, 2016 –
page 83
21.73% "Of course we have a 16 year old who is the chosen one in the usual annoying way about to change the manner in which this cruel world operates but undeniably the writing style here and pace are well done and the story itself is simply a lot of fun!"
November 7, 2016 –
page 133
34.82% "This book is like a guilty pleasure. Not at all an original idea, very predictable, very tropy YA dystopian, very much fun and enjoyable. I don't even know why I feel such a pull towards it."
November 9, 2016 –
page 183
47.91% "I wish I could say that this story is something special, that it is definitely not similar to the Hunder Games and the Divergent trilogies, that the YA dystopian genre has a lot of new ideas to bring to the table with this novel. But, there are just too many repetitions in these three trilogies and who knows how many else. The difference between this one and Divergent? It's much more fun and better written!"
November 10, 2016 –
page 233
60.99% "Darrow is an interesting character to follow. This novel has definitely some great flaws but I'm having a really nice time with it, it's a lot of fun."
November 11, 2016 –
page 283
74.08% "While so far everything was going reasonably well plotwise, the ever-bothersome Deus ex machina aspect of the story that comes at when the plot literally cannot move anymore without this aid is an unpleasant appearance. Oh well, we know this is not a masterpiece but here, in the last 100 pages, is where the most fun part is expected to begin!"
November 11, 2016 –
page 333
87.17% "The boy-wonder. The most fearsome, grand, powerful man...on Mars. Yes, \nI think nothing can stop Darrow. Adolescents who can do impossible things because they are just so unique. Let's see how this ends."
November 12, 2016 – Finished Reading

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