In a world where people are sorted according to their skin/hair/eye colours (but like, even worse than in ours, obviously), Reds belong to the servant/slave class, forced to work underground to mine gasses needed to terraform the solar system and improve the lot of all the rest of the colours. Disobedience is punished swiftly, as Darrow learns early on, but a terrorist group called the Sons of Ares saves him and transforms him into a Gold, the ruling class, hoping to set the stage for future rebellion to bring all the colours back to an even playing field – to the Great Lie, that all men are created equal.
Listen, I was fully prepared to hate this book. I read it on a lark expecting it to be fun but terrible in a way that YA-skewing sci-fi often is – wooden characters, predictable plotlines, all the hallmarks of a good hate read. But Red Rising surprised me, and while some of it was a little over the top, I found myself enjoying the book a lot more than I anticipated. Characters are a little better rounded than I thought they’d be, and the plot had some interesting twists and turns. The world itself is well established and intriguing, and I was left wanting to know more about how the class/caste system works and how the roles of the different colours develop. I think the trilogy will follow Darrow, a “low-Red” the whole way, which is almost disappointing, because I’m very interested to find out how people in the other colours feel about their roles in society.
The opening chapters are slow and kind of overwritten, but it doesn’t take long for the story to open up. The bulk of the book is taken up in a sort of Hunger Games/Battle Royale-esque Game, where the objective isn’t to kill all of the other participants but to wage war successfully. It adds a tactical and strategic element to the “make teenagers kill each other” story that I didn’t realize would be so entertaining. Once the Game gets going, the action never really slows, and while Darrow can be frustrating at times, his motivations are usually understandable. I picked up the second book the same day I finished this one, and I’m very much looking forward to finishing it.
The one oddity is the mix of future and past technology. While the book takes place on the surface of Mars, which has been terraformed and colonized, most of the lore and naming conventions are Greco-Roman. Technology is a curious blend of old and new – think spears that electrocute the person you’re attacking. There’s also a weird insistence on melding words to represent new technology – gravBoots, headTalks, horizonTram – that I found distracting and annoying, but if you can look past this and the strange feeling of the language in the beginning, you might find the kernel of an interesting new series that I, for one, am fairly excited about.