Red Rising by Pierce Brown is a tale of revenge, war and conquest. It has a “pauper becomes king” theme mixed with “The Count of Monte Cristo”. Maybe Brown was partly inspired by the latter classic?
The Characters: Pierce has created a compelling cast of characters. The hero Darrow is a balanced blend of both weakness and strength — he struggles to keep his softness and morality while trying to achieve the power needed to realize his wife’s dying wish (and dream). As he describes himself once in the story: “I’m a sheep in wolf’s clothing.”
Later he becomes the teenage conquerer.
By the end, Darrow achieves the first step of his plan to gain the power to reform society: graduate from the Institute and get noticed by the Peerless Scarred (the elite Golds). He learns a lot about himself during the story and seems to come to terms with some of his decisions by the end.
The minor characters are no less interesting. There’s Darrow’s love interest Virginia of Tribe Athena who is smart and wise. She’s also got a secret that gives the book its final twist.
There’s the Goblin, Svero who becomes Darrow’s most loyal ally despite being shunned by every other snobby Gold in the story. The Gold is more like a savage wolf than a man.
Cassius is like the Gold brother Darrow never had. Too bad it wasn’t meant to last in this story. He’s also an excellent duelist.
I could go on but you’ll find that each and every one of the characters stands out in their own way.
The Plot: Darrow gets a makeover so he can get into the Gold’s “Institute”. He is given the class project of helping Tribe Mars defeat all the other tribes.
There’s a number of betrayals and upsets along the way that keeps things exciting. The one involving Cassius isn’t a surprise at all — let’s just say it’s a family related matter. The twist at the end involving Virginia keeps you on edge almost to the very last chapter.
The story ends with the question: “Now that he’s gotten his sponsorship can he avoid getting caught when he’s promoted to a lancer (knight)?” That question is left for the next book, Golden Sun.
This is very much a tale of revenge though it’s written in a way where Darrow is patient about it. It very much reminds me of the Count of Monte Cristo. I look forward to seeing how the final book of the trilogy will wrap up Darrow’s revenge against Augustus, the Governor of Mars — the man who killed his wife.
The World: At the start of the book, Darrow the Helldiver is the lowest of the low. His world involves his wife and mining. Later on, Darrow enters the world of the Golds and discovers that his people, the Low Reds, are nothing more than slaves.
The tech level at this point is dismal.
You are introduced to a fairly high level of technology somewhere in the first half of the book after Darrow is found by the Sons of Ares revolutionary group. People fly around like the elves of Myth Drannor (a DND Forgotten Realms reference) or butterflies using grav boots. They have weapons that can shock enemies and hurl them aside like rag dolls.
Plastic surgery is done with nano-surgery. People can have wings grafted onto them. One can get whole body makeovers or more.
Then Darrow gets thrown into his class assignment at the Institute and everything’s back to the Stone Age level of tech for the rest of the book until the final act.
In terms of the Society, Brown has built a very stratified one that’s similar to the kind you might find in The Hunger Games or the Divergent series. Instead of twelve districts or four or five Factions, it’s separated by coloured castes (using much of the rainbow). The Golds are at the top while everyone else falls below.
The Reds are the lowest and the low Reds are the slaves. Each colour has a role to play. The Golds major role is domination and power over all others.
One might say their role is to enslave and conquer.
It’s weird but there’s little I can say that’s bad about this book. It has the right mix of revenge, intrigue, action and drama that keeps you on the edge of your seat — making you want to keep reading. There wasn’t much development on the romance side of things between Virginia (of Athena) and Darrow but it’s there.
Virginia and Darrow’s romance story may be explored more in Golden Son. I’m sure it will be quite complicated given Darrow’s true goals and identity. The two however share similar views, however.
Red Rising is a top notch book that might just rank up there among the classics like the Count of Monte Cristo (a favourite of mine). It has a cast of interesting characters, the plot has enough surprises to keep you on edge and Brown does a great job of world building.
This book is definitely worth a read and I think you’ll find yourself looking forward to Golden Sun as well.