Book Review: Red Rising by Pierce Brown

If you’ve ever wondered what the love-child of Ender’s Game, Game of Thrones, and The Hunger Games would look like. . . Check out Red Rising. Ender’s Game was fun partly because of the protagonist and his talent for out-thinking his opponents in satisfying and surprising ways. Game of Thrones keeps the reader guessing with political intrigue, betrayals, plotting, and deep characters. The Hunger Games was largely satisfying because of its can’t-miss premise; throw kids into a televised arena where only one is supposed to leave? It would be hard not to make that interesting. Believe it or not, Red Rising does all of the above and more.

Here is the book’s blurb:

“Darrow is a Red, a member of the lowest caste in the color-coded society of the future. Like his fellow Reds, he works all day, believing that he and his people are making the surface of Mars livable for future generations. Yet he spends his life willingly, knowing that his blood and sweat will one day result in a better world for his children.

But Darrow and his kind have been betrayed. Soon he discovers that humanity reached the surface generations ago. Vast cities and lush wilds spread across the planet. Darrow—and Reds like him—are nothing more than slaves to a decadent ruling class.

Inspired by a longing for justice, and driven by the memory of lost love, Darrow sacrifices everything to infiltrate the legendary Institute, a proving ground for the dominant Gold caste, where the next generation of humanity’s overlords struggle for power.  He will be forced to compete for his life and the very future of civilization against the best and most brutal of Society’s ruling class. There, he will stop at nothing to bring down his enemies . . . even if it means he has to become one of them to do so.”

I can’t go any further into the actual events of the story without spoiling many of the satisfying twists and turns, but suffice it to say that the scope of the story is enormous and within 100 pages I found myself happily shocked at just how many unexpected turns it had taken. I was initially charmed by the characters and the Irish undertones to the red culture. This didn’t fade, but the movement of the story’s plot kicked into top gear and never lets up.

What’s Done Well? 

This trilogy has two stand-out points. The first is character. The protagonist, Darrow, begins the story flawed but he is incredibly proactive. He always has a plan of action, even if he harbors doubts or is making the wrong decision. Pierce Brown will sometimes hold the details of the plan from readers, even though the story is written in first-person; the result is watching Darrow enter into situations that seem doomed but knowing that Darrow must have something up his sleeve. His gambits don’t always work, either. At times, Darrow will fail. At other times, his success comes with heavier prices than he guessed. Even if the plot wasn’t as strong as it is, watching the growth of this character alongside an equally deep secondary cast would be enough. But as I said before, the plot is done incredibly well too.

I think my ability to guess what was coming throughout the trilogy was about one right guess for every ten. This is where the story brings to mind moments from Game of Thrones for me. Previously, Game of Thrones was one of the few books that made scheming so interesting. I have seen dozens of books try their hand at politics and intrigue, but most authors tend to create shallow imitations. Often, one or two characters are cast as the obvious wolf in sheep’s clothing or the political choices are distant and unimportant to the actual events of the story. Red Rising is like Game of Thrones without the snail pace. You get the same surprises, ambiguous but real characters who regularly reveal that they have interests and plans of their own, and morally testing decisions that directly impact the story. Best of all, you get all of this behind a story that constantly moves and isn’t slowed by multiple perspectives or excessive details.

What’s Not Done Well?

I had very few complaints as I moved through the story. My only problem was the feeling at some moments that Darrow couldn’t do wrong. There’s a sense of progression where he begins as flawed and prone to making mistakes from anger or brashness. But beneath the growth, there did seem to be an almost unrealistic natural ability that sets him apart from every other character. He does fail at times or misjudge characters, but it felt like when the author needed to sort of “turn it on,” Darrow could become an unstoppable thinking and fighting machine. That’s not to say those moments weren’t satisfying, but I had a lingering feeling that those moments weren’t 100% believable.

I also had a gripe with one of the major plot points in the second book. For one, it felt predictable, which was an anomaly in the trilogy. Pierce Brown dropped hints about this point for almost the entire second book, and the predictability left me frustrated that Darrow, who is usually so clever, had failed to see it coming. Still, I think the result was fun enough to make me forgive the predictability.

My last nitpick was the reuse of a few words. I think Pierce Brown has a fixation with describing things as a “ruin” and using the word “rage” in about every way possible. He was rage. Rage consumed him. He saw rage. The rage knight. Even naming two different chapters “Rage”. But over a few thousand pages I can’t really hold it against him. I just started to notice it by the second book and let it bother me a little.

Final Thoughts

I loved Ender’s Game, The Hunger Games, and Game of Thrones, but I would recommend this book before any of them. I really felt that it didn’t just borrow some of the best parts of these books, it improved upon them. It had a wider scope and far more character depth than Ender’s Game. It also didn’t rely on a huge twist for memorability. It’s only real connection to The Hunger Games is the can’t miss plot, which would be compelling even if it was executed half as well. And it takes all the realism and grittiness of Game of Thrones along with the twists and turns but manages to convey it from a single perspective and at a much faster pace.

Basically, you need to read this trilogy. I have some Amazon links below, so if you enjoyed the review and want to support the site, please use those links! Also, there is a movie being made by the director who directed World War Z in collaboration with Pierce Brown. So make sure you read this before the movie is a huge success so you can be that guy who says the book was better.