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Review: Red Rising – Pierce Brown

Rise red as the dawn!
Red Rising by Pierce Brown is a dystopian fantasy novel of a different class. Darrow, raised in the mines of Mars is catapulted into the beating heart of Gold Society. Power is prized above all other virtues and violent oppression is key. His mission is to destroy the hierarchy from the inside, but first he has to make it through the Institute, an elite school with a uniquely vicious curriculum.

 

This is the first novel of the series so there is an enormous amount of work to not only make it compelling but to set up the landscape for the rest of the series. The world building is excellent. You feel Darrow’s pain as the betrayal unfold and his understanding of the world comes crashing down. This book is well written, with sweeping quotable and masterful use of literary devices. I love the pieces of technique that are spattered throughout the book. It has great description and is embedded with little chunks of gold.

Darrow: “I gasped at the grotesquery”

The devil is really in the detail which gives it appeal beyond a typical young adult readership. It’s brimming with reference from passing remarks about Plato, Enders Game and Greek mythology. This novel knows where it is taking us, traps are set up that won’t catch Darrow out until Golden Sons and the foreshadowing game is strong. This left me with a complexed understanding of the stakes and built anticipation of the second book, without it feeling predictable.

The character are witty and well rounded, I particularly enjoyed Mustang, Servo and Cassius. The Jackel is perfect and I’m excited to see what calculated horror he unleashes throughout the series. The protagonist Darrow has received some bad press. He is portrayed as wonderful in every respect, but for me he does have his moments of brilliant sarcasm. Getting knocked down a few pegs would do him no harm, but he is flawed and capable of failure which is key. If he was waltzing through hell never faltering I’d be more inclined to agree with the haters. He talks a big talk about how amazing he is which makes him unlike-able. In the wider context however, his confidence and the ability to come back swinging is what allows him to survive.

Great humour is what holds these characters together. Mustang serves as a moral compass in a world that is bankrupt of compassion. She slams Darrow back down to earth when he’s getting too high and mighty and I love her witticisms. There are so many large, complex ideas that are at play here, humour lightens the mood, but also helps you to hold perspective, it’s easy to forget that the characters are only about 18. The childish banter helps to support their believability and makes them more relatable. Servo is my firm favourite, possibly because he’s disgusting, I’m definitely team howler for the duration now. Roque also intrigues me, he sit above the action and almost acts as a second narrator, grappling with some of the larger themes that Darrow can’t articulate.

Red Rising is thematically strong. I respect that Pierce has managed to get so much in without just launching into a bizarre monologue about fairness, inequality, greed and capitalism to mention a few. I found the treatment of leadership particularly interesting. The novel tries to answer a lot of questions, what does it mean to lead? How do you gain respect? How do you unite a group of individuals all vying for power? This becomes crucial as Darrow must command respect is he’s going to transition from red miner to eventual revolution leader.

 

Despite all its amazing qualities, I couldn’t immediately buy into this novel, the first few chapters felt a bit too deliberate, the mechanics slightly clunky. All novels need to move the reader from A-B but I felt this book didn’t bring me with it, it dragged me. At one point I had to forcibly suspend my disbelief in order to get to the next line. A less determined reader might have quit there. I suspect a few did.

For some of the ‘big moments,’ I felt total apathy. Eo went from a beautiful dancing girl, to a human rights activist within two chapters. It sprang from nowhere and I couldn’t marry the character up. She transformed into a mouth piece/plot device, which robbed any sympathy. For ever character who meet an untimely demise no emotion stirred. Is it me, the character development or the amount of screen time? No tears here!

The part I struggled with throughout was the treatment of women. I don’t mind sexual violence within a novel, however I feel it didn’t enlighten me or the story. It was used to up the stakes and add a sense of urgency to the plot. It got the story from A-B, but left me questioning Darrow’s moral character. He dwelled on it momentarily, accused Mustang of whining and then went back to concentrating on how it affected Darrow. It didn’t hit the mark for me at all.

Overall this story has moments of incredible craftsmanship, a solid plot and impeccable pace. It’s immensely gripping and I love the grasp of theme, character building and epic action scenes. Having said that there are definitely some jarring moments. More needed to be done for the peripheral characters to make their plights meaningful. Rather than having them there purely to serve the movement of plot.

Let me know how you got on with it!

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