I haven’t written a book review since it was a requirement to get my “25 Books Read” badge in year 4…but why not break the streak for one of the best series I have had the pleasure of delving into in a long time. Part of this enjoyment stems from my background in Classics, as Pierce Brown bases his worldbuilding on Roman society and uses Roman terms such as Praetor and dominus to refer to the upper class and masters respectively. Let’s not get on our classical high horses here and point out that some of the references he’s making get mixed between Roman and Greek worlds but appreciate the fact that this even exists in the first place!
I just spent a little while reading over what people on Goodreads thought of Red Rising, the first instalment and it doesn’t seem to be as popular as I would have thought. The reasoning behind most people’s responses seems to be the heavy info-dumping of the worldbuilding with minimal explanation until halfway through the book. Understandable if you start reading with the expectation of a simple YA novel; if you are willing to use a little intellect and trawl through the maze of new words and terminologies then you exit the maze with an understanding of this incredibly complex hierarchical society based on colour systems. The aptly chosen Golds rule the society, while the Browns, Pinks, Greys, and Reds are the “lowColours” – slaves to the other highColours.
If I had to describe the plot in one sentence it would be something like “space revolution set to a backdrop of heroics and the Roman pantheon pretending to be mortals”. That makes no sense right? It’s a hard plot to describe. There’s the typical hero, Darrow, who is a “red who rises” hah geddit? He’s not really the typical flawless protagonist though. I spent a lot of Red Rising and Golden Son a bit annoyed at his whiny inner monologue. Oh boo hoo, you’ve had a hard life Darrow, let’s talk more about the badass lady characters who get a little sidelined throughout the narrative. Team Mustang anyone? Team Victra?
I love the characters, don’t get me wrong, but it’s the worldbuilding that gets me in this series. With every new Roman societal reference my face scrunched up with nerdish glee. With every new description of Pierce Brown’s space and the terraforming of Mars come new understanding of his incredibly complex world. This seems to be set in a future of our world, the reason that the Reds and lowColours use the word “bloody” as an expletive is because their ancestors came from the British Isles. It’s the little details Brown adds in such as those that bring this story back to reality. It’s 100% sci-fi, there’s no need for it to be set in our universe but it adds a certain gravitas to an otherwise space operatic adventure.
Golden Son takes the narrative to a whole new level. Darrow’s almost childish adventures in the Gold’s “Institute” seem weak and useless as he tackles the Peerless Scarred and their horrifying lack of empathy. This book was a bit more of an emotional whack to the gut, as Darrow strays further from his “Red” self. Characters do shocking things, the mortality of everyone is super short, the writing is razor sharp and beautiful. This is not the YA series I thought it would be.
The front cover of Red Rising compares Darrow to Katniss and Ender. That’s a bloodydamn insult to everyone involved. Comparisons are there to draw in readers, yes I get it, but once you’re in you realise this is a totally unique story and it needs to be made into a movie directed by Peter Jackson ASAP.