The Earth is dying. Darrow is a Red, a miner in the interior of Mars. His mission is to extract enough precious elements to one day tame the surface of the planet and allow humans to live on it. The Reds are humanity’s last hope.
Or so it appears, until the day Darrow discovers it’s all a lie. That Mars has been habitable – and inhabited – for generations, by a class of people calling themselves the Golds. A class of people who look down on Darrow and his fellows as slave labour, to be exploited and worked to death without a second thought.
Until the day that Darrow, with the help of a mysterious group of rebels, disguises himself as a Gold and infiltrates their command school, intent on taking down his oppressors from the inside. But the command school is a battlefield – and Darrow isn’t the only student with an agenda.
After seeing all of the raving reviews and Goodreads Choice Award nomination, I knew that I had to give Red Rising a read. Of course, I knew absolutely nothing about the book – I hadn’t read the synopsis, and I wasn’t even sure what genre it fell under – but I can honestly say that I wasn’t expecting whatever this was. It has a dystopian/science-fiction setting and premise, but is filled with the language and world-building of high fantasy, making for a truly unique read.
The first ~30% of Red Rising was a rough read, and if it weren’t for the excellent writing and the promise that it would get better, I likely would have given up. There’s a fair amount of info-dumping and dancing that didn’t seem to be relevant to the plot. It was rather slow paced and contained a ridiculous amount of terms and slang that weren’t defined and thoroughly confused me – between bloodydamn helldivers and highColors, I had no idea what was going on at first. Thankfully, the world-building was explained as the story progressed, and I really enjoyed seeing the parallels to Roman mythology.
Once the pace picked up a bit, Red Rising really became interesting. Between military strategies, sieges, revenge, and betrayal, there was more than enough action to capture my full attention. The battles are brutal and dramatic, and the atmosphere is filled with dark tension and intrigue, making it incredibly difficult to put Red Rising down.
I wasn’t able to connect with our protagonist, Darrow. The underdog-turned-revolutionary-leader is usually something I enjoy in a book, but Darrow was just too perfect. For an uneducated member of a low caste, it was unbelievable that he would be the one person able to be artificially enhanced and compete against the most intelligent, strongest, and most powerful members of society. This level of perfection made him really difficult to relate to or sympathize with, despite the author’s best intentions.
I did, however, like the majority of the secondary characters as they were complex and, often, morally ambiguous. My favourites were easily Pax, the surprisingly kind-hearted giant, and Sevros, the wicked little “Goblin.” I really enjoyed how there were many strong female characters (like Mustang) who showed themselves capable in battle, strategizing, and at being genuinely caring individuals. Unfortunately, some of them served only to show how enlightened and heroic Darrow was, as seen by the very problematic treatment of rape over the course of the story.
Overall, there were many aspects of Red Rising that I enjoyed, but the slow pacing and my inability to connect with the protagonist somewhat dampened my reading experience. Here’s hoping that Golden Son is a smoother read.