Red Rising: A Review

Last night, I listened to my boyfriend, Tim, greet our friends at the door as I was changing. It was the premier of Game of Thrones season 7 and we were gathering to watch it. One of our friends, Steven, remarked on the copy of Red Rising on our dining room table. Tim and I have been reading it and Tim just finished it a few days before. I could hear the exclamation in his voice:

“Steven, get that book and read the first page. Just do it.”

Apparently, as he has been reading while at work, Tim’s co-workers have been asking him what it is. He has been recommending the first page, which is a fabulous summary of what is to be expected – showing rather than telling. Every one of them has put it on their lists.
After reading the first page, Steven put the book down and said, ” Wow. What is this book?” We traded pieces of the story, telling Steven how intriguing it is by offering small snapshots without giving too much away. Both of our friends found the book online and were interested in reading it.

It is interesting to me on several levels how a “YA” novel has interested so many adult people. To me, it does not seem like a traditional YA novel. It does not have the immature tropes. Instead, it reads like a fully-fledged science fiction novel, without any of the general teenager themes that are placed upon young adult novels. This novel has broadened the spectrum on what is termed YA. 

I found while reading that there was never a dull moment, no slow parts that throw too much information at you. Many of the things that are presented in this alien world are done so without much commentary and it is largely up to the reader to understand what things are. In many ways, I applaud this way of storytelling, in that, it isn’t necessarily important that you know small minutiae. It allows the story to take over, which is the most important part. But because this is a brand new world for readers, a small amount of setup is appropriate. So sometimes, I would lose what was happening because it was happening quickly and I had forgotten what a slingBlade was. 

As I said in my First Glance, there is nothing more involving than a story about an underdog. Darrow, and the whole society of Reds, is exactly that. Unlike the Hunger Games and Ender’s Game, the two books it is constantly judged against, the main character rises to prominence not based on his plucky attitude alone. He has to go through a major surgical transformation – what Pierce Brown terms “carving” – in order to even enter the upper eschalons of society. The way he is brought there is through the terrorist organization, The Sons of Ares. After a tragedy that ends in his wife’s death, Darrow, 16, must become a Gold in order to destroy their hateful society from the inside out.

That is the first third of the book. 

The real challenge comes when he is selected to be initiated into the Institute, a high class school even among Golds, where they must play at war in order to win the title of Primus and become the elite group of Peerless Scarred.

Are there parallels to Hunger Games and Ender’s Game? Most certainly. All of these books have war or killing in them in order to survive. All have a main character who needs to surpass all others in order to be the best. However, this tale takes those ideas and makes them far more desperate. Darrow has nothing left. Nothing to lose and everything to gain. And because of that, we see a young man who seeks revenge learn to live amongst his enemies and play at their own game. 

And it is a bloodydamn game at that.


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