Review: ‘Red Rising’ by Pierce Brown

rrSynopsis: “Darrow is a Red, a member of the lowest caste in the color-coded society of the future. Like his fellow Reds, he works all day, believing that he and his people are making the surface of Mars livable for future generations.

Yet he spends his life willingly, knowing that his blood and sweat will one day result in a better world for his children.

But Darrow and his kind have been betrayed.”


Bored of Dystopian trilogies? You won’t be after this. Granted, I’ve only read the first book in the trilogy but can’t wait to get started on the rest!

It’s hard to write a summary of the plot because there are so many twists and turns that everything is a spoiler. Unfortunately the blurb pretty much tells you the first few plot twists (which is why I’ve only included the first part above) so here’s my very vague description instead: Darrow is a young, cocky and skilled mine worker on Mars who, after a series of tragic events, vows to get revenge on his masters…from the inside.

The first thing to say is that Red Rising is absolutely brutal. It’s technically an adult book so that’s not surprising, but it’s not just the violence itself that’s unsettling. You actually get desensitised to people dying pretty quickly, Pierce Brown must be pals with GRRM. No, it’s also how vividly everything is portrayed through the eyes of the characters, all the raw emotions attached (or even more chilling, the lack of emotion) and how inventive said violence can get. This book has been compared to The Hunger Games over and over (look, it’s right there on the cover!) which I’d say is fairly accurate but minus the feelsy, compassionate bits, like Rue. This is hardcore. Try Lord of the Flies.

Most Dystopian series follow a stock pattern: Young protagonist lives in a Utopian society where perfection and safety is obtained at the price of freedom from the corrupt but well-meaning rulers. Protagonist decides they know better than all the adults, joins a rebellion and brings down the system whilst suffering significant losses along the way. And that’s not to say we don’t love reading those books, each with their individual takes on the trope. There’s a reason they’re so popular after all. Red Rising sort of follows this familiar story line insofar as it takes a big bite, chews it up and spits it painfully back into the gaping cavern where your heart used to be before you started reading.

This is labelled as a science fiction novel and you do get to see some slivers of amazing technology and ideas. Weirdly enough though, the setting is predominantly muddy and medieval for a good percentage of the book, which could a bit disappointing when you’re not expecting it. I didn’t mind in the slightest, since I love fantasy too, but I’m really hoping for some more spacey world-building and technology in the next books. And to give the author credit where it’s due, the sci-fi elements that are in play (such as different levels of gravity on Mars) are worked into the narrative very consistently and cleverly.

The language is really immersive, giving the book an individual feel and sucking you right into the world Brown is creating. Luckily it’s not so intense that you don’t know what characters are saying (here’s looking at Clockwork Orange) but you do pick up the fantastic colloquialisms quickly and are 99% likely to use the words “bloodydamn” or “goryhell” in everyday life. Just embrace it, you’ll probably end up making surprise friends who’ve also read the books.

I did find the geography a bit hard to grasp and had to continually refer to the map at the front, which I’m not convinced was that accurate compared to the written descriptions. My only other complaint whilst reading was that the novel started off fast-paced but some parts did drag on a little bit. However, that did allow Brown to do his majestic (and slightly disturbing) thing with developing characters and their relationships with each other. By the end you can see why describing every little detail of every interaction was necessary…once you get past a few too many descriptions of how dirty everyone is.

Whist Red Rising wasn’t necessarily as unputdownable as the review hype led me to believe (some parts definitely were), it was nevertheless an exciting, vivid and clever read and I need the sequel. Right. Now.

Favourite quote:

“Death isn’t empty like you say it is. Emptiness is life without freedom, Darrow. Emptiness is living chained by fear, fear of loss, fear of death. I say we break those chains.”

Top three reasons to read:

  • You may feel as if you haven’t cried enough recently. If so this will help.
  • It’s brutal, realistic (insofar as you can say that about science fiction) and gritty.
  • The sequels are all complete so no waiting around necessary.
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