*This review will contain spoilers!*
I've never before read a book set on Mars, so I went into 'Red Rising' absolutely, one hundred percent, unquestionably certain that I was going to hate it and it was going to be a waste of my time.
I could not have been more wrong. 'Red Rising' turned out to be the best book I read this year (followed closely by 'The Fifth Wave', which I didn't think could get beaten at this late stage in the game) and I'm just so damn mad at myself that this is only the first time I've read it, because I've considered it so much over the last six or seven months but I only actually bought it last month, where it featured in my book haul. Let's just say, I take notes when I read so that I can start to draft up my thoughts and this is the first book that I've ever taken six full pages of notes on (front and back!) so it proves how impressed and overwhelmed I really was by this novel.
"Imagine there was a table covered in fleas," he explains. "The fleas would jump and jump to heights unknown. Then a man came along and upturned a glass jar over the fleas. The fleas jumped and hit the top of the jar and could go no farther. Then the man removed the jar and yet the fleas did not jump higher than they had grown accustomed, because they believed there still to be a glass ceiling. [...] We are the flears who jump high. Now let me how you just how high."
'Red Rising' tells the story of a Red called Darrow, who is a Helldiver - meaning a drill controller who digs the deepest tunnels and leads the expeditions - on Mars. Every day, he goes to work in sweltering environments in his Frysuit, mining Helium-3 to help the rulers of society, the Golds, terraform the surface of Mars to make it inhabitable for the higher Colors in the Society. The Reds are pioneers, doing a service for their world that is invaluable and greatly respected.
However, Darrow's wife, Eo, is a dreamer. She is desperate for him to fight for more in their world, spurred on dramatically when Darrow's team of miners loses out on the monthly good performance reward, the Laurel, when Darrow was a mile ahead of the winning team. She dreams of a better world for her children, for their future, and she wants Darrow to use his high respect from the others of their Color to cause a revolution. But thinking out of the box isn't a good way to think, and Eo and Darrow end up getting punished for breaking the rules, and due to a rebellion all of her own Eo gets cruelly slaughtered as an example to the others of their Color. Darrow cannot cope with the loss of his wife, his soulmate and his first love, so he kills himself.
Or at least he tries to.
Waking up underground, he quickly digs his way back to the surface, quickly getting picked up by a squad of people wearing masks, who mysteriously whisk him away to an abandoned warehouse in the middle of nowhere. There, Darrow discovers he has been enlisted by an accused terrorist group, the Sons of Ares, to take down the Gold regime and overthrow the established hierarchy that the lowColors have been living under for hundreds of years.
Normally, a book that is so politically charged would immediately bore me, but the fact that it was such an unusual build up - with all of the different Colors and more being discovered throughout the novel, adding to the layers and the world that was being so artfully crafted - grabbed me instantaneously, and I couldn't help but equate some of the situations that were springing up in Darrow's world to the kind of things that are erupting in our world today. The difference between justice and vengeance was discussed at length, which I couldn't help pondering upon when hearing about the murders of two police officers in America in the last week, in which the murderer claimed he was getting justice for a victim of police brutality. When Darrow realised 'This is revenge, and how hollow it is,' it really struck home with me, breaking my heart in a way that most stories never can, because the parallels between Pierce's world of Mars in thousands of years had exactly the same problems as our world today, proving that there is something fundamentally wrong with humanity as a whole, not on the separate societies. As the novel is crafted around the main plot line of Darrow becoming a Gold and taking down the Society from the inside out, enjoying the politics definitely helped with my overall appreciation of the novel, because it's such a great plot that I was sucked in straight away.
But as well as loving the plot, I loved every single one of the characters. The early characters, down in the mines with Darrow, were filled with such hope and happiness despite their dire circumstances, which left me filled with thankfulness for what I had and a respect to them for seeing the best in a bad situation. Eo planning for the future when the oldest a person seems to live to underground is forty was both naive and inspirational, and my heart snapped when Darrow told us that 'On Mars there is not much gravity, so you have to pull the feet to break the neck. They let the loved ones do it,' I felt the injustice as strongly as if it had been performed directly against me.
When we moved on to the Institute, and the game that took up over half of the novel, I loved the depths of every character that we met. Julian, the optimistic but not entirely gifted son of one of the most powerful men on Mars, brought a bit of friendliness into a world that otherwise seemed pretty closed off and and selfish, and for the time that he was in the novel he was a bright spot. His brother, Cassius, conflicted me consistently - his character to start with was so Gold, there's not even another word to describe him, but by the time him and Darrow had been grouped together as a band in their House of Mars, I absolutely loved him - and by the end of the book I felt like I'd been put through the emotional ringer more by his one character than by most of the books that I've read this year. Sevro, the ugly, small, unintelligent Goblin of the gang, proved that you can never underestimate an underdog by becoming the second strongest member of the gang, and some of his feats were worthy of his being Primus - the leader of a House - ten times over. The other characters: Mustang, Quinn, Roque, Lea, Pax... I loved all of them. Even Titus, by the end of his tyrannical rein, managed to squeeze some emotion out of me, and his death was one of the biggest injustices, because seeing Darrow interacting with another Red in the Gold world would have been a sight I would have loved to see. Learning afterwards that all of their conversations were broadcast to potential employees took the wind out of my sails a little bit, but I still think it would have been brilliant if Titus had been saved by the medBots so that they could have had a discussion about their situation in a future novel.
I couldn't help thinking throughout my reading of 'Red Rising' that it had aspects of 'Divergent'. If you've read 'Divergent', you'll know that Tris's trials on her entry into Dauntless are mind breaking and physically debilitating, much harder than anything that you or I have been through in life, I'm sure. But if you read and loved that novel, the trials and tribulations that Darrow goes through are so much more emotive and impressive, they leave your muscles physically aching from the empathy. The scenes of Darrow in Mickey's office, being Carved into a Gold, left me feeling sick from the knowledge of what he had to go through, and imagining someone getting their eyeballs swapped for someone else's, purely for aesthetic reasoning, made me actually gag. If you thought 'Divergent' was bad, do not pick up 'Red Rising', because it's not for the faint-hearted. Does the idea of a troop of small warriors hiding inside the stomachs of horses corpses make you want to be sick? Yeah, probably not a good idea for you to read this book. But if that's right up your alley, I can't recommend this book enough. Pierce Brown's writing style is impeccable, his characters are all so well written and the plot is interesting and fast paced, so I can't fault this novel in the slightest. The second book in the trilogy, 'Golden Son' is out in two weeks time, so I would suggest you order 'Red Rising' (because it's still only 98p on Kindle) so that you can pre-order the second book and get on board with this series straight away, because it's a big deal, and it's only going to get bigger.