Early December turned into Pierce Brown week. I tore through Red Rising, Golden Sun, and Morning Star in a few days, relishing the ups and downs of Darrow’s journey from Red to Gold...and beyond. Books one and two had been in my “to be read” pile for months--well to be honest, years. I think I picked up Red Rising at the World Fantasy Convention in 2014. But there was a reason I spent so long passing it over.
You see, at first glance, Red Rising appeared to be just one more book in the pattern of divided dystopias that have been prevalent for the last few years (Hunger Games, Divergent, etc.). I kept procrastinating because I didn’t want to read another story about how one person didn’t fit in amongst the oversimplified groups and rose up to save the day. That, and because the book was in first person, present tense.
I find it difficult to get into first person, present tense novels. While present tense creates a sense of immediacy, there are multiple challenges that can send a story spiraling into oblivion--from problems with the timing of events to reducing suspense and an inability to create deep secondary characters. Also, the redundant use of “I” can wear on the nerves.
I’m ashamed to say that Red Rising still sits in the “to be read” pile in my home office, but I happened to be in Kandahar for a couple days and spotted Red Rising in a free library. I didn’t have another book with me, so I tucked it into my pocket and gave it chance that evening. I’m so glad I did. What a fantastic series--and thank the stars that I could download books two and three on Kindle.
The premise of the book is simple. People are stratified by color with golds on top and reds at the bottom and multiple colors between. Darrow is a Red. He is a miner on mars. Everything he knows is a lie, and he must become a Gold if he wants to change things. The death of his wife is the catalyst, and a vague rebellion leader who wants to use his anger and ability is the means.
So how do I describe Red Rising without giving things away? Well it is Ender’s Game for adult readers, with unbelievably painful consequences for young men and women who fail and with a focus on the nature of society instead of weapons and tactics. Brown creates an expansive society, only to show us the barbaric nature of humanity that must be used at times to enforce structure and create a civilized society. Darrow is the means to another way, but he must conquer the solar system first.
For me, there was only one point in which the story semi-collapsed, and that was the ending of the series. When a story is first person, present tense, the protagonist is laid bare. There is no “good” method for hiding what your character is doing and thinking. If the protagonist lies to himself for no other reason than to misdirect the reader, it doesn’t work well. It creates an unreliable narrator/protagonist that in a sense breaks the fourth because he knows he has an audience.
Do not, however, let that prevent you from reading the series, because despite this shortcoming, Red Rising was quite simply the best book series I’ve read this year.
Troy Carrol Bucher
Reader, Writer, Runner in Southwest Oklahoma... recent addition to the DAW family.