Darrow is a Red, a member of the lowest caste in the color-coded society of the future. Like his fellow Reds, he works all day, believing that he and his people are making the surface of Mars livable for future generations.
Yet he spends his life willingly, knowing that his blood and sweat will one day result in a better world for his children.
But Darrow and his kind have been betrayed. Soon he discovers that humanity already reached the surface generations ago. Vast cities and sprawling parks spread across the planet. Darrow—and Reds like him—are nothing more than slaves to a decadent ruling class.
Inspired by a longing for justice, and driven by the memory of lost love, Darrow sacrifices everything to infiltrate the legendary Institute, a proving ground for the dominant Gold caste, where the next generation of humanity’s overlords struggle for power. He will be forced to compete for his life and the very future of civilization against the best and most brutal of Society’s ruling class. There, he will stop at nothing to bring down his enemies… even if it means he has to become one of them to do so.
It’s a strange feeling coming back to your favourite book series ever and trying to find the proper words to review it – without going down the I love this so much it hurts existing fanboying mentality I have over the Red Rising Saga. Disclaimer: I first read Red Rising (or at least, first started it) about three years ago and in terms of the overall series, I fell in love immediately. Though, I’ve never reread it. Paired with the fact I’ve only now just come to love audiobooks, I thought it would be time to come back to this series. That and I’ve never reviewed them before. So, rather than coming to this fresh like most of my other reviews, I’m coming back to this series with a bundle of existing feelings but I’ll try not to let that get in the way of this review series. It’ll be a combination of what I thought initially and what I feel now melded into one – while also remaining spoiler free.
Red Rising, the first book of the series, is spectacular on many levels, but doesn’t initially present itself as such. It is very sneaky with the way it grips you. For me, it was the twists and turns where this book comes into its own. It’s not the things that you expect that make it great, it’s very much those you had no idea were coming.
It’s the story of Darrow, a red (in a society where the colour you’re born into sets your place, where his is the very lowest and Gold is the pinnacle of civilisation), who has been tasked with Terraforming Mars as one of the pioneers. From there, the Society will expand to the further reaches of the solar system – at least that’s what they’ve been told. It starts with one death that inspires a revolution. That drives Darrow. Only, things are not as they seem and I will leave it there as I do not want to spoil the fantastic surprise that’s reading Red Rising for the first time. It’s a heart-rending, brutal book that pulls no punches in its exploration of revolt, uprising, war and love.
The first one still never got top marks from me and that’s because I did initially struggle with the first third of this book. It wasn’t until about one-hundred pages in that I was truly hooked. But the wait is worth it and oh boy does it pay off. Pierce manages to weave an array of fantasy-like world-building, creatures, scenarios, weaponry and warfare even amongst a civilisation built on advanced technology, who idolise or model themselves off the great Roman Empire. If it’s any evidence of such, the pinnacle of Gold weaponry is the razor, a sword that can turn into a whip and back again at the impulse of its user – using the kravat martial arts. Forget lasers and spaceships.
What I most love about this one is the found family aspect, that despite the mission Darrow has, he finds friendships in the weirdest places. With the weirdest people. The camaraderie between Sevro and Darrow feels real, well-earnt and unbreakable. Every colour has their characteristics. And the brutality of the Golds is something quite magnificent to watch – each one of them is a philosophy-spouting marvel, a mini-monster and the breed of the conquerors. They’re more of a study into what humanity would be like if it ditched democracy and turned to the study of Alexander the Great etc. A people of pure power and indulgence. I’ve never felt so disgusted yet so intrigued by a race of fictional characters in my reading life. Of course, with such a set of characters, there’s more than a few uncomfortable moments, very brutal and vivid scenes that might turn the stomach.
The prose … well, that’s the strongest point of this book. When you have characters who reel off latin phrases from the greats of the Roman Empire, and philosophical quotes and ideas from the ancient Greeks as a matter of regular discourse, and weave in those cultures, too, then you’re going to end up with something that is wholly refined, intelligent and at time pompous, sharp, deadly and disgusting. In every sentence, spoken or internalised, Red Rising is a treat.
Take it from someone who never stops thinking about the series (or don’t), this is one for sci-fi and fantasy fans alike. It has the good bits of both mashed together in something that’s so intelligent, so intriguing and utterly heart-breaking that you’ll have to dive straight into the next book. Thank you for listening (reading) to my rant about my favourite series, and for allowing me to indulge. It has been a pleasure.
Break the Chains! My good readers.