How do you decide whether or not to take the plunge and start on a multi-book series? Are you a completist who won’t even touch an unfinished series, lest you find yourself caught in a George R R Martin-style vortex, unable to escape? Or do you have the patience of a saint? And if you do decide to embark on a new multi-book series, do you have the fortitude to cut and run if the quality tumbles downhill? Or are you a sucker for torture?
I’m a bit of a sucker. In the past, I’ve started series with little to no thought to future release dates — my current longest wait between volumes in a book series is 16 years* and counting — and I am really, really reluctant to call quits when things start to slip
This brings me to Pierce Brown’s Red Rising. I was looking for some Young Adult/Young Adult-adjacent (YA) works to read for a change of pace, and Pierce Brown’s works were getting a lot of love, especially on Twitter. But it was the recommendation on the book’s cover page that gave me pause — which I’m sure was not the publisher’s intent!
‘Ender, Katniss and now Darrow’
I know that generally The Hunger Games and the Ender’s Game books are quite well regarded. But I have to confess that for both series, I should have quit when I was ahead. In the case of The Hunger Games, the first book was decent, but neither of the other two quite made their way back past benchmark the first one set. And I was dragging myself through the damned thing by the end of the series.
The Ender’s Game books were a whole other kettle of fish. The first two books were rather good, even if they were distinctly different in tone and style. But the last two? The quality didn’t so much tumble off the edge of a cliff as downright plummeted — while clutching an anvil rather than deploying a parachute.
Clearly, I wouldn’t recommend either of them.
So the fact that Red Rising was part of a complete trilogy was reassuring; it’s just unfortunate that one person’s praise doesn’t always translate across the way they had hoped! But despite that, I thought I would give the first volume a shot.
Red Rising is set in a future where we have managed to colonise Mars. As befitting many YA works, especially YA science fiction, things aren’t exactly rosy. Society has become highly stratified, with different castes colour coded for convenience. The Golds, modelled after the Romans, represent the top of society; while others such as the bureaucratic Coppers and the security-minded Greys, keep to their tasks. Darrow, a sixteen-year-old miner who lives in the subterranean cavers of Mars is a Red; a low ranking caste made up of unskilled labourers who tend to live short, brutish lives. Darrow himself is a helium-3 miner, which, despite the danger, is a job he enjoys.
But his contentment is shattered very early on. With the encouragement of his wife Eo, Darrow comes to realise that there is more to life than working in the mines. And the parts of society that live better than the Reds are never going to give them an inch. The pair’s rebellious streak sets of a chain of events that results in a devastating end for Eo, and Darrow’s recruitment into a clandestine cell of a terrorist group.The group’s aim? To infiltrate Gold society and destroy it from within. One part of the plan involves enrolling an ally into Mars’ top military academy and have the Golds teach them all they know. And they hope that Darrow is both young enough and driven enough to pull this off.
Already, we have ticked off a lot well worn dystopian YA tropes – including an unfair society, an angry, revenge-driven protagonist, and of course, the good old resistance! And we haven’t even made our way through the Military Acadamy’s war games yet, which is where all the comparisons to Katniss and Ender come from. But tropes are not always bad – and they’re certainly easier to forgive when dressed up in a vibrant, detailed setting. And despite a slow start, once Darrow entered the Acadamy, Red Rising is suprisingly gripping, continually pushing the suspense and keeping you on your toes.Although at times, it does get quite violent. So if you’re queasy, be warned.
Red Rising is entertaining enough that it gets a solid 3.5 stars from me. And yes, I think I’ll be adding the next book in the series to my to-read pile. There is a good deal of potential here that is more likely to be realised if the plot is given a chance to expand and given a more political bent, rather than returning to the Acadamy/Thunderdome.
Also, I need to know what happens to Sevro as much as what happens to Darrow
And after a bit of back and forth, I’m putting this one up for my YOUTHS! bingo-square. Thanks to MsWas and