Book Reviews

Book Review: Red Rising

Title: Red Rising
Author: Pierce Brown
Genre: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Fiction, Space, Adventure

What It’s About: Darrow of Lykos is a sixteen year old male Red–a member of the lowest caste of Martian society and of all the universe–who has lived his whole life underground and who has been working as a helldiver since he could become one. He awaits in his machine, to continue mining for the Helium 3, while other members of his team debate whether to take the risk to blow a pocket that could have potentially devastating consequences. As the rest of the team edges on indecisiveness, Darrow takes the risk and finds more helium 3, with the hopes that this would be more than enough to bring home the laurel this year.

After all, that is what he has been working towards–to take the Laurel away from the other sect of Reds and get some more food for his sect, including his wife, Eo. After he washes in the tube, and finds his wife at his family home, they go towards the main dining hall, where all of the Reds would meet, celebrate and party. It turns out that his sect–Lambda–does not win the laurel, and as usual, it goes to the Gamma sect of Red society.

Sensing his frustration, Eo takes Darrow after the celebration for a walk and surprises him with a dome-shaped place that has some soil and grass, and from which they can see the sky. Darrow is surprised and delighted by this view, and Eo and he talk a bit, in which Eo tells him that she thinks that there is more to the universe and to life than what they have been living. She believes in their own freedom to choose to be who they want to be, but Darrow waves it away, and they have sex, before falling asleep in the grass. The following morning they are awoken by the sun shining through the dome, and start to make their way back to their underground home, when they are captured by Gamma members. They are thrown into jail for their actions, and a few days go by before Eo gets walked up to the hanging podium. Typically members who are being hung for treason will ask their closest family members to come up to them for last words, and normally that would be Eo’s husband, but she instead calls her sister up and whispers something to her sister, Dio, who starts crying. Then as she is about to be executed, she starts singing the song that had gotten Darrow’s dad hung several years before–it is treasonous, but holds a message about breaking the chains.

Darrow is forced to pull on her ankles in order for her to die, because the gravity of Mars does not allow them to die by hanging; they have to be pulled. Darrow heads home after being dragged away from the hanging–with a lot of anger towards Nero au Augustus, the ruler of Mars and a member of the Gold caste, for getting his wife killed. But at home he cannot find it in himself to sleep and decides to go for Eo’s body from the podium–this in itself is treason, as they like to leave the bodies hanging as a reminder to other members what the consequences of treason are. Along the way, he runs into his uncle, Narol, who nods and tells him that he understands, and he notices that something is wrong with the display in the common area as it keeps playing Eo’s last song, interrupting Octavia au Lune’s, the Sovereign of the universe, programming.

Darrow takes Eo from the noose, and takes her body to the dome where they last laid together. There he buries her under the sky, overcome with grief over the fact that she did not get to do what she had talked about when they were last there. He then heads home. As expected, shortly thereafter, he gets picked up by Gamma policemen, and his uncle slips him something to drink for his nerves. Darrow then gets hung for treason.

Darrow wakes up and claws out of the soil. He’s confused because he was supposed to be dead, and at first he thinks that maybe this is the Vale, only to encounter the sounds of a Helldiver machine and some individuals including Dancer, another Red, who tells him that Eo had been right about some things, even though she had no real clue. The group then takes Darrow to the surface of Mars, where it turns out that the Reds are little more than slaves. They have been told always that they were toiling for the chance of humanity to live on Mars and other planets, and in order to do that, they will have to mine some of the helium, which made this a noble sacrifice so that humanity could some day live on the surface of Mars.

Except…humanity has already been living on Mars for a while.

As Darrow learns about what is going on, he realizes that they have been lied to, though some Reds have been given permission to work on the surface and have the knowledge. As he gets to know Dancer, and specifically the Sons of Ares, he realizes that their hope hinges on him. Finally Dancer takes Darrow to Mickey–a Carver from the Violet Caste– who begins working on turning Darrow into a Gold. It is a tedious and painful process that takes months as it involves in making Darrow taller, solidifying his bones, changing his eyes, and more. They also train him physically so that he’s in a good shape, and teach him in language more suited for Golds. He takes potions that give him knowledge, and gets puzzles to push his abstract thinking–getting an education for the first time in his life. Four months later, when he is ready, he takes the entrance exam for the Institute–a prestigious school.

When Darrow takes his entrance exam, he passes everything, missing one question on it, which results in a whole slew of investigation into him. But then he passes that investigation and goes onto the Institute. The first day at the Institute, he makes friends with Julian au Bellona, a boy who just joined and is excited to be a part of it, but also gets to know all of the other members of the Gold group in his year. Darrow has a mission–to make Eo’s dream a reality, and his main motivation is to do exactly what the Sons of Ares wanted to do–destroy the Society.

Once at the Institute, Darrow gets drafted into House Mars–one of twelve houses at the Institute–and is the ninth pick overall, based on his scores and tests. Once each of the 12 houses have 100 students, they get taken to their buildings. Then things turn a little dark, Darrow gets kidnapped out of bed, stripped naked, and thrown into a dungeon with another guy, after whom a golden ring is thrown. Quickly Darrow recognizes Julian, and picks up on the fact that only one of them can make it out of the dungeons–they have been pitted against each other in the Passage, the second test of the Institute. Julian tries to beg with him, that he needs the ring, while Darrow also pleads with him, but in the end they grapple and Darrow kills him, taking the ring as his own spoil. He is in shock when he returns to the main room, and another Gold, Rogue, tells him that he will be ok. This turns out to be the Passage, where the top 50 students get pitted against the bottom 50 students, to cull them and in the hopes that the strongest ones win, though there are some upsets. Darrow befriends Cassius au Bellona, Julian’ brother, in his grief at losing Julian.

Then, House Mars is given a fortress by Fitchner, its Proctor, and told that they must go to war with the other eleven houses. To win, they must make one House out of all 12, and it is usually done by capturing slaves with the use of the standard that they are given, and that they need to protect at all costs because it is a loss of power. Slaves, however, are only honor bound, so they may rebel or disregard orders with the consequences being that they bring dishonor on themselves. The students should not kill unless it is inevitable or accidental. Those are the rules.

In a fight with another house, Darrow takes possession of a scythe, leading to his nickname “the Reaper,” and soon after House Mars quickly fractures into four different tribes each led by different members: Titus, Antonia, Darrow and Cassius, and Sevro. Sevro seems to be the only one who has the necessary skills required to survive the institute as he is the only one who knows how to start fires and hunt. As times goes on, Darrow becomes good friends with Cassius and plants the idea in Cassius’ head that Titus was the one who killed Julian. As part of their circle, Darrow also becomes friends with Roque, Lea, and Quinn.

The situation within House Mars further breaks down as Titus’ tribe, with no access to fire or food, starts brutal raids and sieges on nearby House Ceres. Darrow tribe, evicted from their castle, witness brutal tactics used by Titus that include torture, rape and murder. Unable to defeat Titus with only the small group that he controls, Darrow tricks Mustang–nicknamed so by him when he first saw her riding a horse–of House Minerva and her cavalry into taking Mars’ castle, imprisoning Titus and his men in the process. As this happens, Darrow and Cassius are trapped in a freezing lake, and Sevro reappears to rescue the two of them. He then goes on to steal House Minerva’s banner and cook, thereby becoming Darrow’s most loyal lieutenant, and leading the Howlers, a group of lowDrafts (from the bottom 50), who dress in wolfskins and howl. Mustang gets trapped in the Mars castle, and Darrow wins a small skirmish with the Minervans. He then uses the captives and the captured standard to trade for his castle and all of the members of House Mars, solidifying himself as the Primus (undisputed leader) of house Mars. During the exchange, Mustang mentions a much smarter, harder and more brutal boy than Darrow, who has been wreaking havoc in the South, known as the Jackal.

Darrow speaks to Titus, now a captive, and realizes from Titus’ odd mannerisms, including Titus’ usage of “bloody damn”, that Titus is a Red disguised as a Gold. He is disgusted that the leaders of the houses hadn’t done anything to stop Titus’ pillaging, and realizes that Titus had a lot of anger that he could not let go of, unlike Darrow, who was able to make friendships and let go of the anger of being lied to. Darrow makes the decision to allow Cassius to kill Titus, leading to many of House Mars to view him as a flawed leader. Still, Darrow makes an alliance with House Diana to capture House Minerva’s castle and troops. Then he defeats Minerva’s warrior, Pax au Telemanus and enslaves House Diana after their betrayal. During the cleaning up of Diana, their Primus is killed by her own housemate, Tactus au Valii-Rath, while Mustang escapes the battle with her house’s standards. Darrow searches for her along all of the others, ultimately finding Mustang, but knowing what Titus’ tribe would do to her, Darrow lets her escape.

After the win, Antonia and another of Titus’ allies are bribed by the Jackal to betray Darrow and kill him; however, Darrow catches onto their plan, and they end up killing Lea in an attempt to lure Darrow out. Shortly after, Cassius receives–in full view of House Mars–a message from the Jackal’s lieutenant, Lilath au Faran. Darrow asks Sevro to steal the holocube, but the attempt goes awry and results in Cassius watching it. This holocube holds the video that shows that Darrow was the one to kill Julian, and as a result, Cassius challenges him to a duel. Cassius defeats Darrow easily and leaves him to die, saying that if they see each other again, it will be as enemies, and takes over as Primus of House Mars

Mustang, who has been in hiding since the fall of House Minerva, finds Darrow and nurses him back to health. He then takes care of her when she falls sick, and the two of them fall an alliance to try to defeat the Houses. They begin recruiting Oathbreakers–slaves who chose to disobey orders and face the shame it will lead to outside of the Institute; however, they are not going to be slaves, but as free people. The aim is to build an army of loyal friends instead of slaves, and as they build this army, Darrow pieces together that the Jackal is Adrius au Augustus, the son of the Archgovernor of Mars, Nero au Augustus, the man who ordered Eo’s death. He also finds out that the “game” is rigged in favor of Adrius, and many of the corrupt proctors defending and protecting Adrius in order to ensure his success. This does not work for Darrow.

So, with the few soldiers that are standing alongside Mustang and him, the two of them start their rise by showing House Mars and by extension Sevro, that Darrow is still alive. They free some of the slaves of House Mars, and take others, before they proceed to take House Ceres’ fortress and all of their troops as slaves, with the intention to free the slaves as soon as they prove their loyalty. That night, news reaches Darrow that Tactus was caught attempting to rape a girl from House Ceres, and deciding to learn from the mistake that he made with Titus, Darrow first lashes Tactus, then has Pax lash Darrow’s own back. He sends the message that whatever crimes any member of the army commits are shared by all of them, resulting in a fanatic-like loyalty in all of his troops.

As Darrow takes a break from war-making, Fitchner reveals that some of the Proctors have a considerable stake in the Jackal’s winning, due to tie to the Archgovernor, and will gladly kill Darrow if he gets in the way. Fitchner’s recommendation is that Darrow keeps his head down and makes it out alive, but at the same time slips that if a house is eliminated, the Proctor of that house must leave the game. So hoping to force the most dangerous proctors out, Darrow sets his sights on House Apollo and Jupiter. He faces meddling from the Proctors–food poisoning, horses disappearing, carved Bears, and threats on his friends–but Darrow takes House Apollo in a blitz attack that lasts less than an hour.

After that the army moves to take House Jupiter with the hope that they would be able to focus fully on the Jackal without the Proctor’s interference. They find little resistance at Jupiter’s castle due to the house’s forces laying siege to Mars, and he meets Lucian, the garrison leader. As his men get drunk and pass out around House Jupiter’s castle, Darrow reveals that he knows that Lucian is the Jackal. He also reveals that the men are not actually drunk, but that he has Pax and Mustang elsewhere in the Castle, cleaning out whatever troops the Jackal has hidden. Darrow tests the Jackal to see whether he would cut off his hand to leave, in the same vein that supposedly the Archgovernor’s son had no issue eating his housemates to survive. Lucian actually does cut of his hand, and with the help of the corrupt Proctors, who did not actually leave the game as they should have, he kills Pax and escapes the House.

Darrow chases down the Jackal, and during the chase, kills Proctor Apollo and finds out that the Proctors had kidnapped Mustangs. It is then that he realizes he has feelings for her, so he decides to storm Mount Olympus, the residence of the Proctors, with his army and the Howlers. During the siege, he captures all of the Proctors, defeating Proctor Jupiter in the process, and sets Sevro to edit the tape that is broadcast to the rest of the world. He realizes that Sevro might find out Darrow’s true identity as a Red from the tapes, but decides to trust him. He then sends Mustang to capture the Jackal, only to learn from Fitchner that Mustang is Virginia au Augustus, the Jackal’s twin sister, and begins preparing for her betrayal. While he waits for that, Darrow returns to House Mars with advanced weaponry from Olympus and easily defeats the remaining members of House Jupiter who are besieging Mars. Upon finding out that it is Darrow, the members of House Mars flock to him, while Cassius declares a blood feud over Julian’s death, swearing that the next time they meet, only one will leave. They return to Mount Olympus, and Mustang also returns with a bound and naked Jackal, making Darrow, now known as Darrow au Andromedus, the winner of the game, while simultaneously proving her loyalty.

As the Peerless Scarred-the Gold who passed the Institute-descend on them to congratulate Darrow, the Archgovernor asks Darrow to become a lancer in his house. Even though Darrow knows that Lorn au Arcos, the renowned Rage Knight, was responsible for the gifts Darrow received during the battle, meaning that Lorn should have the right to ask Darrow first to join as a lancer, Darrow accepts a position for House Augustus instead, knowing that it will provide a better opportunity for his ultimate goal–revenge for Eo, and breaking the chains.

My Thoughts: I’ve had this book since forever, and for the longest time, I was repulsed by the idea of reading it because the description did not sound appealing, but this year, I made it one of the books to read as a choice, and I was hooked by it.

There are a lot of good reviews on Red Rising, and a lot of bad reviews on the book too. Most of the bad reviews complain about how difficult the language is at the beginning of the book; the fact that the author chose to use sentences with no more than five words in them for every sentence, has driven a lot of folks mad. I wasn’t really bothered by it, and quite frankly, the language does change at some point in the book, because it was written from first person perspective. Darrow’s perspective, to be exact, is the eyes through which we see the whole story develop, and the problem is that at the very beginning of the book, Darrow is uneducated as he has been brought up in a mining slave colony. Historically, folks in those sectors were uneducated and may have not had as developed a vocabulary as others, so it makes sense that the author would have chosen to use simplistic language, especially when you consider the fact that Darrow is 16 at the start of this book. It’s slightly annoying, maybe, but definitely changes later on as Darrow learns language, and is taught this by Mickey’s entourage or via the knowledge potion.

What I loved about this book was the development of Darrow as a character–how he would not believe Eo about a better life–and how disillusioned he was when he found out that she was right. How hurt he was about losing Eo, who is the love of his life, but then realizes and comes to terms with the fact that he’s fallen in love with Mustang. It gives a bit of realism to who Darrow is, makes him seem like any other individual, which then makes him likable. I don’t find him to be perfect–he’s made many mistakes, like letting Titus be killed, but what I did genuinely enjoy was the fact that he owned up to things; learned from those mistakes to just do better the next time around. And as a leader, that is one thing that should happen–learning from mistakes and being better.

It is a good book to start with and interesting to read, so I certainly cannot wait to read the next book in the series.

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