by Amanda DelaCruz

“I would have lived in peace. But my enemies brought me war,”

The Earth is dying. Darrow is a Red, a miner in the interior of Mars. His mission is to extract enough precious elements to one day tame the surface of the planet and allow humans to live on it. The Reds are humanity's last hope.

Or so it appears, until the day Darrow discovers it's all a lie. That Mars has been habitable - and inhabited - for generations, by a class of people calling themselves the Golds. A class of people who look down on Darrow and his fellows as slave labour, to be exploited and worked to death without a second thought.

Until the day that Darrow, with the help of a mysterious group of rebels, disguises himself as a Gold and infiltrates their command school, intent on taking down his oppressors from the inside. But the command school is a battlefield - and Darrow isn't the only student with an agenda.

400 pages | Penguin Random House, January 2014 |
Science Fiction | Fantasy | Action/Adventure

says our protagonist Darrow, a reluctant hero who comes into being through his greatest loss and is propelled by forces beyond anything he could ever imagine.  A lowly Red in the Society's hierarchy of coloured people where every class has a purpose, and all work to keep the Golds at the top. When Darrow is told that he should live for more, that he should set his sights higher than his small existence, he doesn't understand. His life in the mines is enough for him. To be able to do his job, to love his wife, to be amongst community and family is all Darrow needs. He didn't want more.

Suddenly, and heartbreakingly, Darrow learns from rebel group The Sons of Ares that his whole life has been a deception. Then they recruit him to infiltrate the Institute, where the best and brightest of Gold's children are set to become the next planetary, political and military leaders of the solar system.

He is to become one of them, the best of them, so he can destroy them from the inside. 

This book is hard to describe. It is so many things I love blended seamlessly together to create a story that still keeps me hopelessly riveted. Pierce Brown's writing style is fantastic - forceful and thought provoking. The story brings together the tactical joy of Enders's Game, the eugenics and underdog story of Gattaca, the high culture and caste system of HBO's Rome,  and the desperation and power struggle of The Hunger Games - Red Rising is like all these things and more. 

Genetically, Darrow, like all Reds is considered inferior in every way to a Gold. But like Ethan Hawke's character Vince in Gattaca, we get to see that intent, hopes, and the strength of dreams can do more for you than your genetic coding. 

In Red Rising, The Institute turns out to be a playing field. The golds are told that it is a "study of humanity, of political, psychological and behavioural science - how desperate human beings react to one another, how packs form, how armies function, how things fall apart and why."

They, who can have thousands of years of law processed into their young minds in a matter of days, are told that they could learn this nowhere else but here. The goal is to claim power - to rule, dominate or vanquish the enemy houses of their peers through any means necessary.

They are teaching "not only the pain in gaining power, but the desperation that comes from not having it, the desperation that comes when you are not a Gold.” They learn, that the point is "to make you terrified of a world where you do not rule," and they are. 

This novel is frequently compared to The Hunger Games. While there are some similarities, I found there to be so much more depth in Red Rising. The Golds are the ruling class and they emulate their lives as if they are from Ancient Rome. They hold honour, valour, strength, family, and themselves in the highest regard. Even when they fight, they fight nobly. Golds are genetically superior to all other colours and they know it. The point of the Institute  is not to have a final victor in a matter of days or weeks, but to be the uncontested leader of everyone who remains

There are no explicit rules. They can take slaves, they can isolate and barricade themselves, or they can choose allies. 

In The Hunger Games, there are the poor districts, who are kept starving and isolated. But the Reds are literal slaves who do not even know that they are. There are a lot of passages on the idea of blissful ignorance versus the weight and burden of knowledge. Darrow had thought he was happy. Was that enough? He could have lived his whole life and died happy in his own mind. Instead, heavy with the knowledge of what had been done to his people over the centuries, he must act in ways that irrevocably change him.

Unlike Katniss, who never strived to be a leader of a rebellion, Darrow knows he is one of the only ones who can bring about change. Because of this, there is more psychological intent - Darrow has to constantly worry about how to gain and keep loyal followers. Who can he trust? Who will be a good ally but not a threat to his leadership? What does he have that will make him the best leader, more capable than all the others? Do they only follow him because he is in a position of power? What will happen if and when he is not?

"You do not follow me because I am the strongest. Pax is. You do not follow me because I am the brightest. Mustang is. You follow me because you do not know where you are going. I do."

It is not enough just to survive the Institute - how they conduct themselves in their bid for power affects their future prospects in life.  It can give them star fleets to command or bring lasting shame and disgrace to their houses for generations. Alliances made in the Institute are far reaching and at times, long lasting.

The Institute is a microcosm of real life where "no one follows the same set of rules...Some think honor universal. Some think laws binding. While others know better."  We see what happens to those who do not know better. But there are no weaklings here, as in The Hunger Games or even the Japanese cult classic Battle Royale. They are all alphas - all brilliant and formidable. Each house has different strengths and takes a different approach on how to conquer the field. They all have a real chance to win.

Pierce Brown has created no cardboard characters in Red Rising. Each one is complex and is slowly unveiled as the pages turn. I was constantly surprised, not because things were done out of character, but because I was finally beginning to understand their true personalities. I felt both empathy and rage towards many characters. But upon knowing their histories, many of their actions seem justified.  They act in understandable ways, even when it appears terrible on the surface. I was drawn to their vulnerabilities, their heartaches, to their hopes and ambitions. At first, Darrow thought they were all spoiled princes and princesses, but these young golden gods turn out to be deeper than anticipated.

Seeing through the eyes of Darrow is a real experience. While he is quick and resilient, he is still out of his element. He is thrust into their world where he feels like "a sheep wearing wolves' clothing in a pack of wolves.” There is a real and incessant fear that he will be discovered as an impostor which prevents him from forming attachments easily. He is constantly at odds with himself. He is at the Institute for a purpose, but if he makes true and loyal friends how can he destroy their society when not all are the demons they are made out to be?

This book is all about the bigger picture.

It shows how one person can effect change and the sacrifices and benefits involved in  living for more than yourself. When we think about ourselves in the universe, our whole planet appears like just an insignificant speck. But Darrow is like some in this world, where it is obvious that any choice they make will turn the tides. He has the power, and to not use it is a waste to all those who dream but cannot do. 

He is not the dreamer but the one who has to fight to make the dream come true.  Red Rising shows what freedom can cost and that it is not enough to just dream. 

This is book one of a trilogy. Golden Son review to come soon. The final book - Morning Star will be released February 2016. 

[Editor's Note]  A movie will surely lead to a better selection of wallpapers, but for now, for the readers, this'll have to do:

Rise Red, Rise

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