Review by Sean Cassity
Red Rising’s release in February of last year resulted in a successful book which was expected to sell even better. Del Rey had high aspirations for this sci-fi dystopia. It was their champion for the year. With a national media publicity push and a major marketing campaign, Del Rey put a significant chunk of their marketing budget to work hoping to get Red Rising in front of readers. When I finished the book, it was easy to see why expectations were so high. Red Rising takes you on a magnificent ride that keeps swirling through thrilling loops all the way to the last page. But when I started it, I wasn’t sure I wanted to keep reading.
First time author, Pierce Brown, doesn’t give himself an easy task: launching us on a blitz to overturn the corrupt regime of future Mars. The solar system has changed quite a bit in the several hundred years since we got to experience it. Does Brown slowly reveal the changes in a slog of exposition or does he throw us in head first and hope the context gets us upright quickly enough?
He takes option B. He plunges us into the mines of Mars. The mines are full of the Red indentured workers who have never known the sky, the Grey taskmasters minding the workers for the Gold overlords, and clumsy jargon. There is a memory of democracy, though time has corrupted its hopeful hard C into a malicious K. No one would ever want to live in a Demokracy.
But get through the first 50 pages and you’re in for something special. You’re in for an inventive Iliad inspired adventure full of intriguing characters and clever turns. Our Red hero, Darrow, has been chosen to infiltrate the Gold echelon of the caste system and achieve a rank among them that will aid a Red rebellion. To do that, Darrow must enter their most select academy and impress the Gold leaders who will all be watching.
The line on Red Rising is to compare it to Ender’s Game or The Hunger Games. But this is no game. This is Top Gun. Have you seen Top Gun? Red Rising is Top Gun. This is the best of the best competing to prove which of them is best. They’re not here to kill each other, but if a few have to die in the process to prove who is best, well…
Before Darrow is in Top Gun, though, he’s in the mines. The first 50 pages are not unpleasant, they are just unpromising. They do their work. Darrow’s underground life and the plight of his people are presented. The genetically engineered and color based caste system is exposed. Darrow’s love and the motivation for his rage are articulated. But throughout these pages I felt I was being led by hands less deft than Darrow’s.
It turns out Pierce Brown is surely talented, as the remainder of the book proves he is – and even as the first 50 pages hinted he might be. He had the chore of presenting a vast bulk of information quickly and he achieved this better than any young, first time author can be expected to. Any reader who perseveres and forgives the opening will definitely be rewarded, though I know a couple of readers to whom I loaned my copy who chose not to persist. Enough that I wished the book had included a subtitle. Red Rising: Stick With It – Give It a Chance.
With a solid sequel, Golden Son, released earlier this month, now is a great time to take a chance on Red Rising. But it’s not really a chance. I’ve already read it, and I can tell you it’s pretty damn good.
--There will be more to say about Golden Son in the coming weeks.
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