I was on a dystopian kick for a long time, but I overdid it to the point that I’d roll my eyes when hearing of an overly controlled future world on the brink of destruction. I moved away from dystopian and into literary fiction, contemporary novels, and historical fiction, and I was happily ignoring the latest dystopian craze…but then a book like Red Rising by Pierce Brown pulls me back in again.
Red Rising is set in our distant future when Mars is being colonized. Darrow, a Helldiver (miner) in the caves of Mars, has always been told that he and his fellow Reds are mining to help prepare Mars for the rest of civilization. The Golds, who are basically like beautiful, blonde, ripped gods, are the rulers of this society and the Reds are the lowest of the lows. There are other colors, like the Pinks who are bred to be sexual slaves to the Golds, but Red Rising is all about the Reds and Golds, or better yet, it’s about the uprising of the Reds through our hero Darrow.
Some tragic things happen to Darrow that open his eyes to the lies the Golds have been telling for centuries. It drives him to transform himself, literally from a Red to a Gold (their color is not only their station in life but also their body, hair, and eye color), to try to infiltrate their world and tear it down.
I’m not sure why I picked up this novel because it does have all the same staples of dystopian novels: a breakdown of a society which is then built from the ashes with even stricter rules, a class system, totalitarian rule, and an uprising of some sort. That is what we see here, so there’s not much new in terms of the basic plot points, but I think what I liked the most was the strategy game they play.
Darrow infiltrates the world of the Golds by playing this elaborate game of alliances, twists, backstabbing, and quick thinking that hooked me. It was all very complex and intricate, and if you weren’t paying attention you might just miss a very important piece of the puzzle, and I couldn’t stop trying to put it all together.
The game is continued in the second book of the series, Golden Son. I don’t want to say too much about Golden Son to ruin Red Rising for you, but know that it picks up right where Red Rising ends and the stakes of the game are even higher. Darrow has made his way up the ranks in the Gold’s military and he’s trying to take them down from the inside by starting a Civil War. Golds fighting Golds.
Midway through Golden Son I figured out another reason why this trilogy is captivating me: the world building. This is a great story of revenge and rebellion and it doesn’t shy away from complicated, confusing, remarkable world building. The colored society of Golds, Reds, Pinks, Blues, Oranges, and more sounds really simplistic, but it’s everything but simple. There is outstanding detail involving education, governance, job growth, money, and other class structures, and with this structure also comes loyalties and backstabbing that is thoroughly entertaining. Pierce Brown did a really fantastic job of creating a world that sounds awkward and unbelievable and making even the most outrageous actions seem perfect. I look forward to the final book in the series.