You know how sometimes you go to review a book and you just can’t figure out what to say about it? For, like, weeks on end? And meanwhile you keep reading, and your stack of things-to-review just keeps growing. And growing? And grooooowwing. This is one of those times. It’s not that I don’t have thoughts and feelings, and not that I didn’t enjoy the book, because I did and I do, but I’m having a hard time getting up the energy to condense and organize all those thoughts and feelings in order to write about them.
In many ways, Red Rising is a pastiche of a lot of stories that have come before it, but this book is exactly why I don’t think being a pastiche is necessarily a bad thing. If done well, taking a bunch of cool shit from other places and recombining all of it into new and exciting configurations can result in a really fun reading experience. Which I think this mostly was for me, barring some quibbles. Certainly it had the quality I most look for in a book, which is immersiveness. I was IN this world and I didn’t want to put it down until I’d found out exactly how it ended.
Be warned, I’m about to spoil the first fifty or so pages of this book so that I can talk about the rest of it.
Red Rising takes place on Mars far in the future — not sure how far, at least a thousand years from now, probably more. Darrow is a Helldiver, a young man who’s spent his entire life being worked like a slave under the surface of the planet, supposedly mining gas so that future generations will be able to live and colonize the surface of Mars. Darrow is also a Red, one of the lowest classes of human being living in a hierarchical society ruled by Golds. The Golds hijacked humanity centuries before when genetic engineering and eugenics began to produce humans so physically superior to the others that they felt themselves entitled to more, first on Earth, and then on Mars. Their society is heavily influenced by the Roman Empire, right down to the ‘worship’ of Roman Gods, and the use of Roman military tactics and structures. You get the feeling that most of this is superficial, a call back to an age of supposed glory meant to reinforce the glorious image of the Golds. But we mostly only learn all of this as Darrow does. Because, yeah, as he learns after an act of rebellion on the part of his wife, he and the other Reds aren’t working towards some future Mars where his descendants can live in peace on the surface. They’re working for the current Mars, which is already colonized (for hundreds of years now) and are being kept below the surface to mine resources for those living above.
It’s at this point that young Darrow — bent on revenge after the death of his sixteen year old wife, Eo (Reds live and die young) — is recruited by revolutionaries who mean to turn him into a Gold and have him infiltrate society from within in order to bring it crashing down.
So that’s the set-up. The majority of the novel takes place as Darrow accomplishes said infiltrating, which involves genetic manipulation, lots of training, and a Gold military academy. Darrow is aiming high. The academy is the best part of the book. The Golds’ training is hands on and brutal, and really compelling. None of Pierce’s characters are particularly lovable or deeply drawn, but the stakes he sets up are intense. I finished the book feeling like I’d just gotten off a particularly intense roller coaster.
I did have some issues with the book, mostly to do with the writing style. Pierce is a young writer and he has some talent and probably a really bright future ahead of him, especially once he matures a little bit as a writer, but there were places that were just really overwritten, mostly at the beginning of the book when the plot wasn’t as interesting. When writers think they’re being profound it’s profoundly irritating to me. I would have also appreciated a little bit more character development. It was very plot and action heavy, and could have done with a little bit of weight on the other end of the spectrum. Unlike other readers, I didn’t mind the violence. Maybe I’m just desensitized (ahem, Joe Abercrombie and Game of Thrones, AHEM SPARTACUS) . . . but it seemed pretty tame to me. (Reviews I read made it seem like a really violent book, so I had prepared myself. By the end I was like, okay yeah, a little gruesome, but go watch a guy get his dick cut off and then get crucified and come back here and tell me this was a violent book.)
Overall, it was a good reading experience, and I’m excited to see where he takes books two and three.