With its themes of oppression, revolution, resistance and war, mixed in with an analysis of how war and all its hues impact the human psyche, and battles of strength, cunning, and wit, Red Rising is the young adult dystopian novel that I’ve been waiting for. And it was bloody fantastic.
People say that this book likens to The Hunger Games. Both have a similar feel: Oppressed protagonist becomes an unlikely hero as they become mechanisms of resistance and subverts of their power-hungry oppressors. But whilst The Hunger Games explores dehumanization and society’s obsession of reality television (both valid points to make), Red Rising explores the machinations and enduring effects of colonialism, and the military-industrial complex.
Whilst The Hunger Games is about how Katniss became a symbol of resistance with open defiance against the Capitol, Red Rising is about how its protagonist, Darrow, subverts the Society by penetrating the ranks of his oppressors by becoming one of them. Though I say this with bias because I am not a fan of The Hunger Games (though I see the importance of its themes), I prefer the subtle approach of Red Rising. There are so many opportunities to explore a variety of ideas and themes, and Pierce Brown takes every opportunity to flesh them out. Furthermore, Brown is a better writer; far more engaging, sophisticated, and thoughtful.
But enough of The Hunger Games and more on Red Rising. It tells the story of Darrow, a lowly Mars miner who is a Red, the lowest caste in the universe’s now highly stratified society. Humankind has now colonized other planets, and the workers of Mars have been tasked to mine helium-3 to make terraformation in Mars possible.
I salute you. I love you. The helium-3 that you mine is the lifeblood of the terraforming process … And soon, when Mars is habitable, when you brave pioneers have made ready the red planet for us softer Colors, we will join you and you will be held in highest esteem beneath the sky your toil created.
… Or so they have been led to believe.
And isn’t that the most cruel and most beautiful lie of all? To be told that all your hard work will be worthwhile in the end, never mind your peers lost to poverty and death, that it will be celebrated and that you will one day – but not today – rise above your suffering? Never mind that those who oppress you are those that ultimately gain, and that the freedom you yearn will only be when you are no longer a viable, useful being? So long as you work hard, you will be rewarded at the end — this is called the Protestant work ethic, and Weber, in his book, asserted that this work ethic is attributed the widespread of the system that depends on inequality and exploitation to function: capitalism.
Red Rising explores a variety of themes that are both intriguing and necessary. Red Rising is set mostly in the Institute – a place where the top-tiered Golds are put to the test and examined to earn apprenticeships and sponsors. The Institute is all at once a game of warfare, a test, and an education. But the Institute is more than that. The Institute is also an institution of ideology and indoctrination. It doesn’t educate, per se, but it teaches society’s best the ways of combat and warfare – not peacemaking, not demokracy (as they call it), but lessons that propagate militarization and social Darwinism.
This aspect is Brown’s narrative on how some institutions instill ideology and rhetoric in its people is not just any ideology or rhetoric. It is the Society’s rhetoric. The best soldiers aren’t those who fight the best; the best soldiers are those that believe, deeply and truly, that what they are fighting for is right. That is what the Institution is trying to create: soldiers who are dauntless in the Society’s belief system.
There is an interesting ongoing analysis of how Darrow’s physical transformation to enter the Golds ranks begins to affect who he is underneath. Though Darrow is the champion of the Sons of Ares, a spearhead in a revolution, he finds friendship and unlikely siblings with those who would be his enemies, he discovers how dark and deep the human psyche can descend in the face of adversary and desperation, and he finds both glory and dangers in leadership. More so, Darrow slowly learns that there is never just leading an army because you call yourself a leader; to lead is to find the balance between loyalty, respect, and fear. Darrow makes mistakes, some that are very costly and set him on a path of failure, and added on top, he must wade through a cesspool of deceit.
Brown analyses how war and conflict affect people and their connections with others. Red Rising has betrayal – a heck load of it – and there are complex relationships between Darrow and a multitude of characters; how their personalities conflict, their ideologies and worldviews collide in some places and align in others, where and how characters earn or place their loyalties, relationships founded on co-dependence or necessity, and even how valued and close friendships can be torn apart in moments of truth. (And now is the perfect moment to mention that if you have read Red Rising, you should also read Art of War by Sun Zi.)
Red Rising is a fantastically written book. Sure, Darrow is a bit of a Gary Stu and he does come out on top, but I believe books like these should be approached as something metaphorical rather than something literal. Sometimes characters in such dystopians are representations of something – whether an ideology, a group of people, or even something as simple as a belief. Red Rising is that sort of book. The writing is subtle, but the themes are not. For that, this book may not be enjoyable to some, but I loved Snowpiercer, so, I suppose you can see my taste.
Oh, I loved this book so much. It was so wonderful, so thrilling, and incredibly exciting. Even when there was nothing happening plot-wise, they were instead moments when Darrow became introspective and observant. And honestly, Red Rising is my kind of book, and I can’t wait to read The Golden Sun. I can’t wait to see where it goes from here.
Note: Thank you Aentee @ Read at Midnight for recommending this book! I don’t know how you knew I’d like it, but I LOVED it. Thank you!
Book Name: Red Rising
Book Series: Red Rising #1
Author: Pierce Brown
Publisher: Del Rey Books