Red Rising, by Pierce Brown, takes place in a dystopian version of our galaxy, where a dying Earth sent pioneers to terraform the other planets in the solar system and altered their genetics to ensure their success, using hair and eye color to differentiate between the different levels of hierarchy. It worked too well, as the colonies rebelled against Earth and its greedy republics and democracies. The Golds, the highest caste and veritable superhumans, crushed Earth in the Conquering, and formed a government called the Society, ruled by a Senate of Golds and its Sovereign. All other Colors live to serve the Society and its interests.
Beginning of the Story
The story begins 700 years post-Conquering. Darrow lives on the planet Mars in a mining colony deep beneath the surface. He is a Helldiver, pilot of the great drills, excavating materials used to terraform and fuel starships. His caste, the Reds, are at the bottom of the hierarchy and are told they are the great pioneers who terraform Mars for human habitation. They are the hope of all humanity.
Tragedy strikes and Darrow’s world is shattered. In truth, Mars has been habitable for hundreds of years. Cities span across its surface alongside vast wilderness. His Color is being used as slave labor, performing brutal work all their short lives, so Gold can maintain their decadent rule over the galaxy.
Fueled by raw rage and grief, Darrow joins a rebellion to overthrow the Golds who ruined his life and have enslaved billions of his race. But outright revolt would be crushed in days by the super-intelligent, superhuman Golds and the other Colors under their leash. His task is to infiltrate the Society as one of the oppressors, as a Gold himself. Only then could he tear the system down from within.
Hope of the Rising
Darrow’s first task is to join the Institute, where the Golds send their children to learn war, politics, and control of the human species, to become a Caesar, Genghis, or Wiggin. It is the proving ground, where the godlings strive to dominate their fellows and ensure their House is victorious. Success ensures apprenticeships to the most powerful figures in their caste and admittance to elite academies. Failure could mean working at the edges of the solar system in disgrace, or even death.
Darrow cannot afford to fail. If he wants to aid the rebellion, he cannot just survive, but dominate.
I was drawn into this book so quickly. Pierce Brown has crafted an incredibly tense story, combining a dark universe with a protagonist who is driven and full of both emotion, intelligence, and drive. Side characters are full of flavor and could honestly be protagonists themselves if the story was written from their viewpoint.
The author also establishes early on that the stakes are high for Darrow, as characters we grow attached could easily die as a result of their actions or others. (For example, Brown has been known to pull a name out of a hat for who dies in the series).
Critics in general have compared the book to Ender’s Game, Dune, and the Hunger Games. It has mythology, military sci-fi, and dystopian elements throughout. It hit #20 on the NY Times bestseller list upon its release. The sequels within the trilogy placed higher upon the list on their debut.
I highly recommend this book and the series in general. Anyone who loves character-driven narrative is going to love this story. The only reason I’m not reviewing the overall trilogy is to avoid spoiling the first book itself.
Noah Wilhelm has been hooked on fantasy and sci-fi since childhood. One of his friends recommended he try writing after he talked their ears off one time too many. He loves almost all genres of fantasy, space opera/dystopian, and is usually down to read a character-driven story. Dark fantasy has been his writing wheelhouse so far, but he does plan to write a sci-fi series someday.