Actual rating : 9/10.
My friend Petrik sent me this beautiful book on my birthday and I can’t remember the number of occasions we talked about it or he recommended it to me (along with my favorite Howlers Mary, Celeste and Sarah)! Needless to say we were both anxious I wouldn’t like it, especially since I’m not a big Sci-Fi fan! 😀 Turned out, we shouldn’t have worried as I absolutely loved Red Rising, its setting and the ideas it dealt with!
This is one of those books you fully appreciate if you dive into totally blind. I did. And I was rewarded beyond my expectations. Thus, I won’t be revealing neither plot elements nor characters, but merely discussing the themes this book treated. You might want to avoid reading the books’s back cover synopsis as it reveals a good chunk of the story!
The Society is strictly and efficiently organized into Colors: Copper are bureaucrats and administrators, Yellows are doctors and scientists, Violets are the artists, Grays are the military and police officers, Browns serve in households, Pinks are bred for pleasure etc… And while the Golds, fearsome warriors, cunning politicians or ruthless governors, sit and rule at the top, the Reds, lowest Color in the Society’s pyramid, populate the bottom and work the mines of Mars to extract vital Helium-3 in the hope of terraforming the planet and ensuring a future to humankind.
I expected to dive into a Sci-Fi setting and was rewarded with strong dystopian themes as well. The Society’s stern hierarchy and rules were pretty dreadful to contemplate. No exceptions are tolerated, neither in reward nor in punishment. Every individual is expected to stick to his/her assigned place and task within the established order while Colors and colonies are divided and ruled with a surgical precision.
But while the dystopian themes (ideologies and propaganda) were extremely well broached, the real life questions were what made the book stand out for me in the genre. Pierce Brown did an excellent job at incorporating a clever observation of our modern society in his story: consumer society, modern slavery and collective indifference and superficiality.
“Man cannot be freed by the same injustice that enslaved it.”
⛤ Are the choices we make really ours or are they the by-product of our upbringing, society, or circumstances?
⛤ To which questionable or low acts one might or must stoop to achieve one’s goal?
⛤ What’s the price of freedom and dignity?
Brown tackled these questions in Red Rising but also a more psychological one that reminded me of Stanford prison experimentand the movie The Experiment and represented, in a very realistic (and scary) way, the ugliest aspects of human nature when exposed to hunger and deprivation or when in a position of power.
“The measure of a man is what he does when he has power.”
Needless to say, this book was rather dark and brutal. I frequently had to put it down to digest either shocking revelations and twists or the amount of violence and sometimes simply to ponder a few concepts and ideas. Reading Red Rising wasn’t a light or fun experience but rather one of the most rewarding and thought-provoking reads I had in a while. I loved it that much!
Plot-wise, the story kept constantly going in very different directions with new settings and characters appearing along the way. The sense of danger was ever present, since the first pages, and the plot often unpredictable. And despite it losing momentum near the middle of the book, I was never really bored but rather wondering where the heck was Brown going with his story!
I heard the writing was a hit or miss for a lot of readers. I totally understand why! Present tense, first person POV made me skeptical, to be honest! LOL But it took me only a handful of pages to get used to it and be totally sucked into the story. The writing was clipped and efficient and it totally suited the world it was describing. It felt right. There was no filling, no convoluted sentences. No long descriptions or melodramatic narration. Simple words. A few sentences to serve a purpose. And despite that, it managed to be raw and soul crushing when needed. The way Pierce Brown described feelings such as love or loss or mourning was poignant.
But despite all the emotions I’ve felt, I can’t say I loved or rooted for the main character, Darrow, nor for most of the other characters. And that’s okay because they were all interesting to explore nonetheless. I didn’t need to love them. I only needed to watch their evolution and see what they’d become. Some started good but were corrupted along the way while some of the seemingly bad ones showed surprising and redeeming traits. I loved that I was unable to predict anyone’s intentions, most of the time. And I also loved that the characters’ development was more subtle than linear. They didn’t start with 0 talents, skills, intelligence or knowledge. They rather learned to hone those skills, stumble and get up, make mistakes, learn from them, and then make new ones over and over again.
”If I am a good man, then why do I want to do bad things?”
I can’t remember reading any other book with this much focus! Ever. I tried to take my sweet time with it to make sure I didn’t miss anything. There were powerful messages (whether hidden or blunt) in there. There was critical thinking. For me, the beauty and the relevance of Red Rising wasn’t in the Golds’ perfection or the tidiness and prosperity of the Society but surprisingly, in its grim mines and gory deaths and the fascinating description of the lowest human instincts and urges! And that despite the hardships, the oppression and the hunger, there was still hope, love and warmth to be found.
Also, you should listen to this version of Persephone’s song! I did, repeatedly, and most importantly during the last chapter, which made it even more intense and affecting! I hope you like it as much as I did!
“I live for the dream that my children will be born free. That they will be what they like. That they will own the land their father gave them.”
Trigger warnings: Rape, violence, brutal deaths.
Review by Haïfa.
Read in August 2017.