I feel that I was unfair to this book when I started reading it. I’ve come to a point where I’ve encountered too many dystopian fiction and everything seems to muddle together. I’m starting to become jaded… read that scenario before or I’m not as easily impressed by it anymore.
I felt that way with this. I was expecting another The Bone Season bs. I’ve seen the book trailer in the cinema (!!!) that went something like, “Ender, Katniss, and now, Darrow…” To line this newcomer up with these iconic book characters is a bit of a stretch. I mean, Ender of Ender’s Game was the YA hero of the 80s while Katniss made Jennifer Lawrence a star. So who is this Darrow? What is Red Rising all about?
The novel is set in Mars. But that’s not where the “red” is the title is from. The peoples are divided into colors, mostly depending on your birth. Reds are the lowest kind, Obsidians are the soldiers, Pinks are the entertainment, etc. Golds are the top of the heap. Looking at it like that, it’s closer to Divergent‘s factions than The Hunger Games‘ districts. Darrow, 17, was born a red. He is a Helldiver, a digger of Helium3, an element that is used to terraform Mars for human living. The Reds are told that the Earth is dying and Mars is the only hope. But that is a lie.
One day, his wife – yes, wife… they were married at 13, I think? – Eo, showed him that terraforming has already begun. They were captured by other colors snooping around. Darrow loses Eo and then loses the will to live. But because of Eo, he finds that drive all over again.
I see Darrow as a Plutarch Heavensbee. Since they compared Red Rising to Ender’s Game and The Hunger Games, let’s go with that. With the help of other colors, he disguises himself as a Gold, going from an illiterate teenage widower to basically a perfect human specimen (that is blonde, light-eyed, strong, fast, and smart). He’s still a Red inside but they change everything outside – yes, hair and eye transplant included. He then “destroys” the system from the inside. Just like Plutarch, only it’s not until the end of Catching Fire that we know he’s a mole. Here, we follow Darrow’s journey as a mole.
The writing is technically very good. I enjoyed reading it. But it lacks emotion. Kind of like in Mockingjay but not forced. Darrow was merely narrating what was going on and I really had no clue about what he was feeling. Therefore, I was rather detached from him as a character. I connected with the guy named Sevro more; he reminds of of Bean from Ender’s Game. The pace is what I liked the most. It is definitely action-packed. The second half is composed mostly of this Percy Jackson-esque “capture the flag” game only with more blood and gore. Their “games” are watched by proctors, even helped along by them. Just like in The Hunger Games arena.
I keep mentioning other books because Red Rising itself does it. It actually mentions Wiggin. And a place called Osgiliath. The Lord of the Rings, anyone? Honestly, if your reading scope is rather large, you can’t help but refer to other works at some point in this novel.
For the first 10% of the book, everything was flying over my head. The author has this weird gimmick of stylized words: gravBoots, clawDrill, iPod, GoodReads. Not to mention some other jargon-y type words and offer no explanation as to what they are. The culture of the Reds is rather questionable also. No read, no write, marry at 13, old at 35. And then there’s Darrow. On his process to become a Gold, he mentioned that he didn’t know how to read. Then he was hooked up to a machine that read him books overnight then suddenly he became the smartest person ever. Oooh-kay. Give me 20 minutes of your time to watch this classic Dexter’s Laboratory episode.
Anyway, he’s the lead character. So yeah, he’s entitled to every TV magic available.
It’s a rather ambitious debut and it showed. It tried to be more than what it is. But I did enjoy it and look forward to the next book in the trilogy. Oh dear, another trilogy.
Rating: 3.5/5. To be fair, there were moments that I truly enjoyed. It’s just that a huge chunk of the book flew over my head. No more dystopian for me for a while.