Book Review: Red Rising

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Red Rising
By Pierce Brown

My Edition:
Paperback, 382 pages
2014, Del Ray
ISBN: 9780345539809

From the back of the book: His wife taken. His people enslaved. Driven by a longing for justice and the memory of lost love, Darrow will stop at nothing to bring down his enemies…even if he must become one of them to do so. For the first time, Red will rise.

What I liked:
I’ve seen very positive reviews for Red Rising in the online book community and since I enjoy sci-fi I figured I would love this book. Well, there are parts of it I really enjoyed, but I’ll say right now, I don’t think this book lives up to the hype it’s getting. The beginning of the book was everything I wanted it to be – a dystopian society, Darrow and his fellow Reds toiling in the mines of  Mars, harvesting a certain element so the other colors could use it to make Mars habitable. It was clear something happened in society to separate them and now everyone is born into a certain color, much like a caste system, and each color has its own jobs in society. Darrow is a helldiver, the most dangerous job in the mines, and I was interested in learning more about life in the mines and lives and duties of the other colors (Greys, Coppers, Whites, Golds, Purples, Pinks, Greens, Blues, etc).  I even liked Darrow – he was headstrong, over-confident, bold, but very loving and family oriented. Unfortunately this was a very small portion of the book and my enjoyment of the book faded to…indifference and occasionally annoyance.

What I didn’t like:
I don’t know how much of the plot I’m allowed to talk about before people start considering it a “spoiler”. But in order to talk about what I didn’t enjoy about this book, I need to mention that Darrow gets accepted into “The Institute” where the best of society goes to train and earn even higher positions in society. I don’t know about you, but when I hear the word institute, I think of a school or college of some sort. What I got instead, what a drawn-out  Hunger Games meets Percy Jackson, teens-against-teens battle, where the adults might help or hinder you as they please. I don’t want to go on a long rant about this, but I think the last two-thirds of the book veered sharply from the first portion and that’s where it lost me. I don’t want to read about kids running through the woods, using their resources to battle and conquer and sometimes kill each other to earn control of everyone else. I know dystopias are still trending and that my chances of running into the same old story are high, but I didn’t expect to get that with Red Rising.

The members of the institute are split into houses named after the Roman gods and each house has its own proctor. Throughout this power struggle, which took place over several months, the proctors could help or hinder students or groups as they pleased, because they have the means to do so. Darrow must become the leader of his house and conquer all others in order to win the game and earn a high place in society. Honestly, I just wasn’t interested in the politics, the betrayals, the fighting. I soon forgot this book was even based on Mars because with the exception of a few comments about the different gravity, there was nothing that made this battle feel like it was on another planet. The constant references to the Roman pantheon made it feel like a sinister version of Camp Half-Blood, and of course the fighting and killing and interference from the proctors had a very Hunger Games feel. I don’t normally think about other books when I read something, in fact, I try not to compare a book to others in its genre, but I could not get these thoughts out of my head.

My other big issue was the writing style – Brown really loves his similes. It took me a little bit to realize it, but once I did, it seemed like every other page had a description like “hair like spun gold,” “voice as cold and brittle as ice,” and “face like hammered bronze.” I eventually lost the ability to picture what he was trying to describe because each new character was granted a strange simile, rather than any real descriptive clues. Normally I don’t mind phrases like these, when used sparingly, but this book was over saturated with them…like a cookie gone soggy with milk.

~

My main issue with this book is that I was expecting something different and instead was giving another dystopia where adults pit teens against each other because they can, mixed with a power struggle between the “upper” and “lower” classes.  The battle for power in The Institute seemed to drag on endlessly and I reached the point where I was just ready for the book to end. I do still plan to read Golden Son, though I’m in no great rush, because I’m hoping Brown will turn back to what intrigued me in the beginning of the book. I think this series has potential if Brown can present something unique going forward.

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