I'm dealing with a hellish commute these days, so audiobooks have kind of become my lifeline. (By hellish I mean it can be anywhere from 3-5 hours each day, there and back.) The past couple books I've started listening to haven't really worked out, so I've returned them (did you know Audible lets you return books?), either because I just couldn't dig the narrator or the story was taking way too long to get anywhere (okay when I'm sitting down with a book, but NOT going to work when I'm already bored in the car). So I was looking at the books on my wishlist, and what ones had wicked high ratings on Audible, and Red Rising came up.
I didn't know anything about this book going into it, so I have to admit I was super surprised by everything I encountered. I don't know how much I can say about the book, as there are major twists and turns right from the beginning, but I'll try to make it as cagey and veiled as possible.
Red Rising by Pierce Brown takes place in a distant future version of our world. Society has been divided into classes based on color (Red is the lowest, Gold the highest). The Reds are the men and women who make up the community on Mars that is mining material necessary for terraforming other planets. In order to move the rest of the colors off of Earth, the Reds must toil and suffer every day of their dramatically short lives. We follow Darrow, a seventeen-year-old Hell Diver, who gets right into the blazing hot mines. At seventeen he's considered basically an adult among Reds - he's even married, to a spirited girl named Io. But Io has bigger dreams, and bigger suspicions, about what the Golds back on Earth really want and what they do to get it. Darrow would rather stay ignorant to it all, but he soon has no choice but to face a terrifying truth, and become the center of what comes next.
Cagey enough for you? Red Rising is interesting because though it is technically science fiction, it reads like historical fiction. It's heavy on the politics, light on the sci-fi - there is plenty of world-building, but the world itself is less important for its futuristic technology and more for the society that the world has created. The world building is also slow to come, but that's for important reasons that I don't want to spoil. So if you're a fan of political games, Red Rising is the book for you.
I'll admit, though the writing is excellent (and the narrator of the audiobook talented), it took me a very long time to get into this book. It's divided into four sections based on each step in Darrow's story, and the first two sections are just not as interesting to me. I blame that on the first being very reminiscent of other dystopian books I've read in the past - it builds a world that is clearly unfair to a large amount of people, and that's on the brink of some big turning point. The second section is kind of a preparation-for-what's-next. It's really not until the third section where I feel like the plot really gets going, and I was eager to hear what came next.
Darrow is a great character, with a lot of anger inside him reminiscent of Katniss in the first Hunger Games novel - he unabashedly hates Golds and their society, and yet loves his family and friends. He feels the injustices of his world, but he doesn't want to be part of fighting them - after all, his life might not be wonderful, but he's found things (and people) to love in it. What he ends up having to go through is heartbreaking, terrifying, and at the same time almost... cathartic? to read about.
Most of my favorite characters are introduced much later in the book, and I really don't want to spoil anything for you--I enjoyed the surprise I got when things changed irreparably in the first section, so I want to give you the same enjoyment. Still, when the cast of characters starts to get bigger, that's when I really started enjoying myself.
The ending was a little bit of a disappointment, but I think it's because I disagreed with some of the choices Darrow makes, not because it leaves off in preparation for the next book. I expected a little bit more denouement/fallout that I think Brown has put in the second book instead. A good way to get people reading the next book, but a little frustrating when looking at Red Rising by itself. I did like the world, and the people (even the evil ones), even if the story is a little slow going, so as a first book, it definitely did everything it was supposed to do.
I definitely want to know what happens next, so I will be picking up Golden Son. I might even pick up a physical copy of it, lest the slow burn continue into book two and make me frustrated on my drive! This is a very different take on science fiction and dystopia than anything else I've ever read, and what's been set up (however slowly) in book one is sure to be dynamite in the next installments.