This review was originally written in April of 2016.
Pierce Brown’s Red Rising was a surprisingly good book, not necessarily because of the quality of the writing (which was good, just nothing outstanding) but because the story was compelling and original enough to feel like fresh ground.
It’s a fairly distant future science fiction novel, taking place on Mars, but with a solar system that has been thoroughly populated by the time the novel begins. The human population of Red Rising has been divided into very distinct castes, defined by biological and neurological differences that are both technological and evolutionary in nature…and that is at the root of the story.
Our protagonist is a “red” who works in deep tunnels below Mars, drilling and harvesting materials in exceedingly hazardous conditions for the noble purpose of terraforming the planet above. It’s only after his wife is hanged and he goes proudly to his own death that he finds nothing generations of his people had believed was true. The surface of Mars had been long terraformed and civilized as had essentially every planet or moon in our solar system.
He undergoes painful and extensive alterations of all sorts in order to pass for one of the ruling class for the purpose of exacting vengeance and righting the wrong that had been done to his people from within that upper class.
I’ve seen a number of people comparing this trilogy to The Hunger Games, which was one of the reasons I hadn’t bothered to read it until now. I didn’t care to read what I suspected to be a low-rent clone of a wildly successful series. Upon reading this book, I suspect any of those people comparing it to The Hunger Games haven’t read many other books, since the only similarities have to do with a corrupt and decadent ruling culture and a good deal of violence. There is more resemblance to Lord of the Flies and Ender’s Game than anything else, with a healthy dose of Roman (and a bit of Greek) mythology to set the stage.
I enjoyed this book enough that I plan to read the next two, and I think it’s got a fantastic degree of character development that makes it feel more three-dimensional than a lot of young adult fiction.