Book Review

Book Review of Red Rising by Pierce Brown

Red Rising Pierce Brown Book Review

Red Rising

5 stars5 stars
Oopsie, did I go beyond 5 stars? Yes, I believe I did. I'd fill up the page with stars for this book.

Before I describe Red Rising, let me get something out of the way. I've been reading books for over 35 years and Red Rising is THE BEST BOOK I've ever read. Seriously. I've read thousands and thousands of books and this one toppled them all. Old favorites like Ender's Game, Lord of the Flies, the Outlander series. Knocked down. New favorites like Hunger Games, the Wool series and the thick, juicy Game of Thrones novels.... shoved to the bottom. Red Rising took the best of the best, threw it all into a blender, added new and better details, characters, situations and knocked my socks right off. Hunger Games? Bah. This is the book Hunger Games WISHES it could be. Don't even compare it. The sacred, untouchable Ender's Game? Puhlease. Don't bother me. Red Rising shoves Ender into a corner and makes him look like a boring character from a stupid story for children. Classics? This is a new classic.

Notice I didn't say Red Rising was the best book in its genre. It wasn't entirely clear as to what genre it's actually in. It's a dystopian. It's sci-fi. It even has a bit of medieval stuff thrown in there, Y.A. elements and Roman mythology, and and and....it doesn't matter. It's not just the best book in its genre (whatever that actually is). It's the best book. Period. Don't let anyone compare it to anything. It's above everything else. You thought you read a great dystopian? Oh no, that was scraping the bottom of the barrel. You thought you had a terrific sci-fi? You ain't read sci-fi till you read Red Rising. Like fantasy? We got your fantasy elements right here, only better. Adventure. Gotcha. You don't like any of those types of genres? Doesn't matter. Read it anyway. This is pure storytelling with characters that are going to rip your beating heart out.

This book is the next "IT". I'm not kidding. You shouldn't even bother to read my review. Just get it and read it. Everyone else is going to. Yeah, I recognize that's an appeal to popularity, which is a logical fallacy.  Just do it anyway. I know it's going to be the "next thing" because I'm so excited about it I'm ready to scream to everyone I know to GET THIS BOOK. I'm ready to watch the movies that don't exist yet. Ready to buy the merchandise that hasn't yet been created. Ready to pre-order the second and third books which aren't even written yet. Praying that the author is working on them right now because I NEED to read them. It's not a want. It's a NEED, people. I just don't get this worked up about books. Ever. And here I am all worked up. It's. Just. That. Good.

At the end of the acknowledgements in the front of the book the author states, "And to the reader, thank you. You're going to bloodyd*mn love the next two books."

I was immediately turned off by that. How cocky. Don't assume, Mr. Brown. Also, what's with the slammed together curse word? I don't think I like that. Not one bit.

I must amend my original thoughts as they no longer apply. The author is a prophet. I am going to bloodyd*mn love the next two books. I bloodyd*mn loved this one. He better bloodyd*mn be writing the other two RIGHT NOW.

I couldn't put Red Rising down. Restroom breaks? Eating? Overrated. You'll understand when you're reading it. I think my heart was pounding during the last 25% of the book. Literally. Pounding. I was getting all panicky at about 50% thinking, "Crud! There's not enough of it left!!" During the last few minutes of the book I was reading in super slo-mo speed because I just couldn't have it end. I needed to savor the last words like the last drop of water falling from a canteen in the desert. You know that's it when the last drop rolls around on your tongue and there just isn't anymore and you are going to die. So my eyes hoarded every last word as if my life depended on it. I re-read over sentences. I crawled to the last page…Reluctant and yet dying to know…Oh it did not disappoint. The ending has you ready to write the author himself telling him to bloodyd*mn hurry up with the next book.

Have I gushed enough? I think not. And yet I know I really should say something about the book itself. But not too much! I don't want to give anything away.

Here's the sacrilege…I didn't even know if I was going to love the book during the very first chapter. It was good but not great. Then it started getting better and beautiful and intriguing and you might as well put me on a train because I was steaming through that book and doing NOTHING else.

How am I supposed to read other books after this?!!

Now, let me say something before I describe the book. My description is not going to be good enough. You may even read it and think "Meh …not for me". Don't do that. Read it anyway! There is a reason why I have not seen it get anything less than 5 stars from everyone else who's written about it online. And you NEVER see that. There is always at LEAST a few grumblers who get an ARC (advanced review copy) with their whiney opinion about at least some part of a book, myself included. This is simply not happening with Red Rising. There is a reason for that. That isn't to say that no one will rate it lower at some point, but the response is overwhelming beyond positive right out of the gate. I'm not the only one going goo-goo over this book.

O.K., I should turn off the gushing faucet and try to let you know a little bit about the book itself.

Red Rising is set in the future. Darrow is a Red. Reds are a genetically modified people who toil under the surface of Mars drilling for and extracting an element vital to terraforming. The Red's brutal, short, subterranean lives are a sacrifice for the good of humanity. They work to make the surface of Mars ready for the waiting humans on earth. They've been told that humanity is depending on their hard work. They are man's only hope. They believe that someday, all the pain, the sacrifice, the scrabbling, half starving existence will be worth it. For humanity. For their future children. They give themselves willingly, knowing they are making a difference for the coming centuries of future prosperity.

But… It's a lie. Mars is already terraformed and other humans have been living above the Reds for over three hundred years. While the Reds struggle and labor in their hellish nightmare, a decadent society lives above ground and scattered across the other planets and moons, living a life of luxury built on the Red's backbreaking work. At the top of the hierarchy are the Golds. Radiant. Intelligent. Iron. They are genetically enhanced to be smarter, stronger, more beautiful - a sculpted ruling class raised in palaces, riding horses through meadows, feasting on hummingbird tongues, piloting their star ships across space and perpetuating the lie…

The Reds are slaves and don't even know it. They are cockroaches under the Gold's boots.

We meet sixteen year old Darrow in that underground world of the Reds, along with his beautiful, young wife Eo. Theirs is a love that is so pure and beautiful it simply radiates off the pages. He's a talented, somewhat cocky boy but good. He's motivated by love. Love for his people. Love for his wife. Love for the children he hopes they will have someday. He's a hard, hard worker who pushes himself to the limit, literally risking life and limb in the hopes of winning his clan extra food and supplies by getting the highest drilling quota. But even when he wins it, his people aren't rewarded.  Things are not going to change. Things are not going to get better. Eo senses it. Eo hopes for something more. Eo does the unthinkable.

And with that tragic moment, Darrow is thrust into a world he never knew existed.

In order to right wrongs, in order to make Eo's sacrifice worth something, Darrow must become something else. He must become one of them

This is where the book begins to shine. Darrow's transformation from a Red into a Gold and his infiltration into the Gold's academy for the best and brightest young men and women is an amazing journey. When he is a Gold, one of those beautiful gods, he stands out as something special, even among the Gold's finest. Darrow is something impossible. A "subhuman" Red besting the best. As the students of the academy are immersed in a year-long scenario meant to educate these elite teens and separate the wheat from the chaff, bonds are forged through the toughest of tests and Darrow realizes that it's not so clear-cut anymore who all his enemies are after all. Another revelation: that even in the perfect lives of the perfect Golds, everthing isn't as perfect as it seems...

I'm going to be careful not to share too many details. There are plot twists and turns that would be ruined otherwise. I do want to comment though on a few more things.

World Building:

Pierce Brown does and amazing job moving from one world to the next. The underground world of the Reds is dark, worn down, dirty and just…old. It's as tired of a place as the people who live in it. Yet he also brilliantly captured the love and spirit of the song-filled Reds. Their lives are brief, but they LIVE.

When you move above-ground, Pierce brings the cities of Mars to life with all the tech and beauty and decadence wrapped up in the glittering cities. He does a terrific job at describing the color-coded, genetically altered castes, each segment of society never able to reach up into the next segment. In some ways this just highlights how extraordinary Darrow is. He is doing the unthinkable. He's ascending to the unassailable top of the hierarchy. His seeing this amazing world for the first time is convincing and realistic. Darrow is a man in the underground world of the Reds. Above ground, he is just an uneducated boy. Just a slip into his people's dialect or his ignorance at some custom or about some bauble could jeopardize not only his mission, but also his life.

Then, when Darrow is at the academy and the students are taken to an environment on Mars made just for the purpose of educating these elite children, you are thrust into a medieval type of location that reminds me of an older Scotland - full of mists and fogs, castles and wolves. It's like Hunger Games in the highlands or Ender's Battleschool spread out over lochs and craggy canyons.

Besides all of that, there is the intersteller element - the armadas of ships, the other colonies near and far. The little details that make every environment something you can see in your mind.

And it all works. It just does. You can see it unfolding like the scenes of a movie. Smell it, taste it, feel it. These worlds live and breathe, stink and shine. They are real.

The characters:

You've got the gamut here and all are exceptionally written. The hero, of course, is Darrow. He's complex, fallible, sometimes confident, sometimes self-doubting… always learning. You can't help but cheer him on. He makes you want to pick up a sword and follow him, no matter what the cost. Which brings me to another point (yes, I'm interrupting my own train of thought). I HATE battle scenes. Hate them. They are usually something I barely tolerate while my eyes glaze over and skim. However, in Red Rising, when the students were at the academy, I was ready to pick up a weapon and gut someone. I cared about every second of every battle. That is a testament to Pierce Brown's writing ability. He can even take something I don't like and make me ready to throw on a helmet, grab a shield and gallop over the plains ready to take somebody down!

I love Darrow. He is one of the most well-written characters I've come across because he's so REAL. All of the characters are. I won't mention the rest because getting to know them is part of the fun. I guarantee you'll love some and want to personally wring the necks of others. The care and brotherhood and hatred they feel for one or the other is so tangible and well-communicated, you'll feel it yourself.

Depth:

Red Rising has so much depth to it. There are amazing references to history, with parallels and nods to real people from history, politics, mythology & literature woven in. I can't even begin to scratch the surface of this novel.  While the story will compel you to the end, there is MEAT here. You could hunt around and come up with all sorts of goodies for those of you who like to dig under the surface of your books for all those tasty hidden meanings and references. For those of you who don't, no worries. This is storytelling at its finest, just hang on and enjoy the ride.

Oh, and speaking of references to literature...I have to mention the moment I almost peed my pants. There's a reference to Ender's Game. If you've ever read that novel, you'll giggle when you see it.

Final thoughts:

I simply cannot do this book justice with a review. It's vivid, beautiful, harrowing and full of creative twists and surprises. It connects you emotionally to the characters and makes you care about every goryd*mn (that's Gold lingo for those of you who are uninitiated) moment. It is the best. Book. Ever. Now go and put it on pre-order. You don't want to miss Red Rising.

Click here to go to Amazon's page for Red Rising.

*I recieved a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.


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