I’ll have to admit I was about ready to give up on Red Rising after wading through the first hundred or so pages of the novel, but solid on-line buzz and a glowing review from Entertainment Weekly made me determined to muddle on and see if I could find out what all the buzz was about.
And now that I’ve finished the book (the first in a trilogy of novels), I can sort of see what all the buzz was about. In many ways, Pierce Brown’s debut novel feels like it’s taken a lot of ingredients from other popular novels — dystopian future, a hero who must reinvent himself and embrace his destiny, lost love, a winner take all, no-holds barred contest – and blended them all together like a stew. And while all the ingredients are good, I still don’t feel like everything blended together well enough to leave me feeling satisfied when I got to the bottom of the bowl.
Darrow is the lowest of the low in the future dystopian caste system on Mars. He’s a miner who endures day after day of back breaking labor in an attempt to get ahead a bit. His lifespan is expected to be short, but Darrow takes comfort in the love of his wife, Eo. But when Eo speaks out against the ruling class on Mars, her final act before being hung is one of defiance. Darrow is devastated (her death is made even more brutal by the fact that due to Mars’ lower gravity, he has to pull on her legs to complete her sentence and allow her to die without further suffering) and vows to find a way to get back at those who took the light of his life from him.
This leads to his own trip to the gallows and his apparent death. But instead of dying, he’s taken and turned into an upper crust elite with the goal of leading a rebellion from the highest levels and overthrowing the powers above him and getting his revenge on those who took Eo from him. Along the way, Darrow learns that much of that Mars he knew is built lies and deception, designed to keep the lower classes down and give them just enough hope to keep toiling while the upper castes reap the benefits.
What Darrow endures to become one of the higher castes is interesting, but there were times reading this first installment I wished Brown would spend a bit less time on the world-building and a bit more time developing his characters and moving the plotline forward. At times, Darrow is difficult to like, making some portions of the book less interesting to read than others.
And yet, this book is garnering a lot of glowing reviews from the on-line community, I kept reminding myself. And there are a few twists in the novel’s last third as well as a pick-up in the intensity of developments that I could almost see what everyone else seems to love about this book.
It’s enough to have me interested in a second installment and curious to see what happens next. But it’s not enough for to me really rave about this book and feel completely satisfied with it overall. It feels like it’s a few ingredients short of a complete meal.