Red Rising by Pierce Brown
Hodder & Stoughton, 382pp standard hardback,
£12.99 cover price, £4.99 on Kindle (Jan 2016)
Reviewed by Alex Bardy (Twitter: @mangozoid)
I really liked this… and although the second half of the book reads a bit like an even more gruesome Hunger Games with a planet Mars setiing, the first half carries you along with an intense first-person style of writing, especially as we witness Darrow enduring a makeover like nothing you could imagine.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves… [NB: possible spoilers ahead]
Set a long way in the future, Mars has been successfully terraformed into a thriving decadent planet, but for Darrow, one of thousands of Reds working the mines down below the surface, this habitable world is but a promise and a dream. The caste system on Mars is supposed to ensure the lowly Reds never get to see how the Pinks, Greys, Silvers, Golds, etc. enjoy the fruits of their labour, and as such, finding out the Reds have all been deceived for generations hits Darrow hard, especially so when his wife dies shortly after opening his eyes to the falsity of their existence.
Thus we are well groomed for a tale of revenge, but the process is a long and arduous one, and the term ‘pain-inducing’ barely adequate as we witness Darrow’s physical (and mental) transformation from Red to Gold, in a seemingly desperate bid to infiltrate the system and bring it down from within. In a sequence that is destined to be burned forever in my memory, we look on as every sliver of skin and withered bone is systematically sliced away and replaced or broken and rebuilt, to set Darrow up as a believable member of the Gold caste – he does literally die and get reborn during this, with a training regime that makes any number of similar literary and cinematic sequences pale in comparison.
I don’t want to say much else, but the inevitable comparison to The Hunger Games comes when Darrow is put through his paces in a series of games designed to further stratify his status amongst the Golds, be it as Ship Captain or War Leader or any number of other potential political or military posts, and to what Family or House he will form an allegiance before and after.
It’s uber-violent, full to bursting with subterfuge and deception, and quite the rollercoaster ride once things gets going, and as such well worth seeking out. The second in the series, Golden Son, delivers more of the same, but racks up the violence and carnage considerably, with a fresh dose of self-doubt and self-determination thrown in for good measure…