Red Rising By Pierce Brown (Book 1)

“I live for the dream that my children will be born free. That they will be what they like. That they will own the land their father gave them.’
‘I live for you,’ I say sadly.
She kisses my cheek. ‘Then you must live for more.”

I absolutely loved this book. Why? Who wouldn’t want to read about a society split into different functional levels on Mars? About a school for the elite that starts off with the brutal murdering of half of the applicants by their peers, about a rise from rags to riches and a struggle to the top when everybody is perfect. A book about a Mockingjay that sings the start of a revolution and then is hanged to death in front of friends and family and her devoted husband.
About wits and courage and loads of hate.

“Sharpened by hate. Strengthened by love.”


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The Plot

This is not The Hunger Games.. This is more brutal, there are more deaths, more suffering children, more pointless violence.
It’s a teen read but the world built is larger, better defined and especially well documented around Mars and the moons of Mars – all the way to Earth. It has new technology, warfare, a background story where the Moon Colony went to war with Earth and a POV from both the poor classes to the Elites.

Red Rising introduces us to Darrow, a sixteen-year-old miner who toils deep in the mines of Mars a few hundred years in the future. In Darrow’s world, humanity has spread across the solar system, and has been organized into a strict caste system of colors, with Gold at the top and Red at the bottom. Darrow is a Red, but he is making the most of his hard life in the mines. He is good at his work. He has a beautiful wife Eo (they get married young and die young down in the mines) and though the Reds live in abject poverty, they are a proud tough clan. They appreciate songs and drink and family. They also hold on to the idea that they are sacrificing for the good of humanity at large. They have been told that they are pioneers on Mars, making the planet habitable through their hard lives mining helium-3, and some day the surface of the planet will be able to support life thanks to their efforts. Some day, the other colors will join them on Mars.

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Then Darrow’s life is shattered when he and his wife are arrested for trespassing in a garden that is restricted to the Bronze administrators. Soon Darrow finds himself alone, bereft and marked for execution.

“I still remember the flush of blood in her cheeks as she danced. She was all the raw colours of life, the crude beauty of nature. I am the human concept of beauty. Gold made soft and supple in man’s form.”

He is plucked from the jaws of death by a resistance group known as the Sons of Ares, who show him the Big Lie of his existence: the surface of Mars is actually already inhabited. The other colors have formed great cities, and are allowing the Reds to keep toiling as slaves while the Golds and their minion classes live lives of relative ease. The Sons of Ares have a plan for Darrow: because of his dexterity, constitution and quick mind, he is just the right double agent they need. Using advanced genetic manipulation, they will make Darrow a Gold and send him to infiltrate the Institute, the training academy which produces all the top leaders of the Society that controls the solar system. Darrow’s job is to rise as high as he can within the Gold ranks so he can assist the Sons of Ares in their eventual revolution. The only problem: Darrow first has to survive the Institute.

About 30ish% into the book, you enter the third stage, and while the overall feel is still one of horror at the inhumanity of the upper classes, Darrow’s enemies start to become humanized. Funny, nay, downright HILARIOUS things happen, camaraderie develops . . . It creeps up on you until you forget why Darrow is where he is. You’re caught up in the NOW, survival depends on the present, and little thought is given to the past or the future.

He is now a Gold in training and he is surrounded by friends who can become enemies and enemies who can turn into friends. And a new girl, wild and impetuous like the horse – Mustang. Maybe he starts loving her. Maybe he is using her or she is using him for her own plots.

I know I am impetuous. Rash. I process that. And I am full of many things—passion, regret, guilt, sorrow, longing, rage. At times they rule me, but not now. Not here. I wound up hanging on a scaffold because of my passion and sorrow. I ended up in the mud because of my guilt. I would have killed Augustus at first sight because of my rage. But now I am here. I know nothing of the Institute’s history. But I know I have taken what no one else has taken. I took it with anger and cunning, with passion and rage. I won’t take Mustang the same way. Love and war are two different battlefields.

I found Red Rising absolutely compelling. I tore through the book and am anxious to read the next two books in the trilogy. You will recognize many ingredients from other YA/fantasy series. The big discovery of society’s true nature was reminiscent of the Matrix. The caste system is like Divergent. The Institute sorts its students into houses like Harry Potter. The cutthroat competitions among the Golds is very like The Hunger Games. And the nature of the training is described as a year-long deadly game of capture-the-flag, in which the houses (all named after Roman gods) fight one another while the proctors float about them and watch from a levitating mountain called Olympus. That, too, seemed oddly familiar.

“But we have widgets and datapads now, and we Golds have the lower Colors to do our research. We need not study chemistry or physics. We have computers and others to do that. What we must study is humanity. In order to rule, ours must be the study of political, psychological, and behavioral science—how desperate human beings react to one another, how packs form, how armies function, how things fall apart and why. You could learn this nowhere else but here.”

The Game of War they play is like the real-life power struggles they will face when they grow up. It teaches them that whoever is at the bottom of the chain is a slave to the rulers. And the rulers can be ruthless or forgiving. And Darrow learns how to bring the children to follow him. He makes mistakes and he learns.

“It is the structure of the armies at the Institute. The hierarchy is good for simple tasks. Some fingers are more important than others. Some are better at certain things. All fingers are controlled by the highest order, the brain. The brain’s control is effective. It makes your thumb and fingers work together. But the single brain’s control is limited. Imagine each one of the fingers had a brain of its own that interacted with the main brain. The fingers obey, but they function independently. What could the hand do then? What could an army do? I twirl the stick along my fingers in intricate patterns. Exactly.”

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And yet Red Rising is more than the sum of its parts. Pierce Brown manages to craft all these elements into something new, something believable and exciting. I couldn’t help getting swept away in Darrow’s story as we follow him from the lowly life of a miner to the very heights of Olympus (literally), wondering along the way if his secret identity will be discovered, or if he will ‘go Gold’ and forget his rebel benefactors and his mission. The book is satisfying in itself, but it leaves a lot of tantalizing questions for the second volume, which I have already started reading. If you like YA adventures, like the ones mentioned above, this is definitely a book you should check out!

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