Trends in Young Adult novels these past few years—perhaps since Harry Potter—have had a particular theme: resisting oppression. The oppression comes in many different forms, usually with a totalitarian, Orwellian government and a hero who rises against the impossible. Time and again series like The Hunger Games, Divergent and Ender’s Game have all managed to gather a huge following and were made into big budget films with huge stars.
One of the newest popular series in the genre is Red Rising by Pierce Brown. The first in a trilogy, Red Rising has a message that is no different from the many books that came before it, it simply has a more elegant way of going about it; and it’s many devoted followers, who call themselves “Howlers”, will probably argue that it’s better than all the other series.
First off, to hopefully interest some people who would be turned off by “Young Adult”, Red Rising is not a YA novel. It is in the same genre, but it has—thankfully—grown up and become a little more eloquent. And though the story is told from a young person’s perspective, the life he leads makes him far from young.
The story is told from the point of view of Darrow, a lowly “Red”, working in the mines of Mars to prepare the planet and make it habitable for future generations. He, and all other Reds, are at the bottom of color-coded caste, each with their own assigned areas of work. Standing at the other end of the spectrum are the Golds who watch over their work and are inaccessible, godlike. Darrow and the other Reds look upon the Golds in awe and fear; the Golds might be the pinnacle of the society they are struggling to create, but they are also their judges and executioners.
Darrow is content with his life, despite the danger and knowledge he’ll die young in the slum he grew up in. Content, until he and his wife break a rule and his life is torn apart–torn apart by a Gold. When he has a chance at revenge, he leaps at it, and his existence is radically changed.
Interestingly, of the most unique things about Red Rising is not the Reds in their slave-like society, it is the Golds. Despite their actions, they are not portrayed as monsters and even though they are the enemy to Darrow, many soon become his friends. Readers find themselves liking the Golds and worrying about them. Darrow soon begins to see that the Golds are people just like him: they are privileged and selfish, victims to their social status, but they are human. The great drama of the series is how Darrow has to struggle with his growing friendships and belonging to a different class, all the while knowing he might eventually have to betray and use the people he has come to love.
Red Rising is a fun, fast paced read filled with action and well thought-out worlds. The writing is clever and manages to twist together a time of futuristic technology with a more primal, brutal age, and easily conjurors up vivid images for the reader.
Red Rising is followed by Golden Son and Morning Star with a new trilogy titled Iron Gold, slated for January of 2018. Considering the popularity of the series and similar genres it’s likely it will be made into a movie at some point. For those looking for a dystopian series a little more complex than other young adult novels in the genre, this is a wonderful choice.