Sunday, April 26, 2020

Review: RED RISING by Pierce Brown

Rating: 2.75/5 stars

I have been wanting to read more science fiction lately, and Red Rising is my best friend’s favorite book, so I thought it’d be a good one to start with.

The society in this book is a caste system based on colors. I’ve never seen a caste system quite like this one, where the people are their Color. Like all the Reds have red hair, all the Greens have green eyes, etc. so physical appearances match your caste Color. The people have been genetically modified to fit a certain Color. It’s also cool that the differences go beyond physical traits and the colors determine what jobs you have. For example, Reds are the miners below Mars’s surface, Greens are programmers, Yellows are doctors, Blues fly the starships, Golds are the ruling class, etc. Each Color has specific traits and rules and speech patterns—basically, a person’s entire existence is dictated by their Color. It’s honestly so cool to see how intricate of a world Pierce Brown created here. It’s definitely something you have to get used to as you read because details are not always explained right away, but this whole system is the best part of this book.

Darrow is a Red, but as can be inferred from the title, he rises to become a higher Color. I won’t spoil how or why, but it was all very interesting.

Unfortunately, that is kind of where this book lost my attention. Once Darrow got to the Institute and joined his House (about a third of the way into the book), the entire story turned into a battle of territory akin to a giant game of capture the flag that lasted for months, a competition between twelve Houses for the land in the valley. The rest of the book to the very last page was consumed with them fighting for this land at the Institute, and it was too long. I didn’t care about what was happening, and I could never really figure out what the purpose of the “game” was.

Something that bothered me a bit was that if I didn’t know this book was set on Mars, I wouldn’t be able to infer that at all from the setting. In the beginning when Darrow is underground, it’s easier to see Mars in the setting there, but during the entire rest of the book above ground, there are trees, streams, snow—pieces of Earth that make the setting look and feel like Earth. I know they mentioned terraforming Mars to make the land livable, but it takes away from the foreign sci-fi setting when I can look out my window and see the same landscape. Red Rising feels more like a dystopian novel than a sci-fi novel.

I also didn’t care about any of the characters besides Darrow and Mustang (and even them, not so much), and a lot of the tertiary characters blended together to me. The whole time I was waiting for the long battle to end so we could go back to Darrow’s individual story. Although, everything seemed to come too easily to Darrow. He was the first to have all the answers, he always figured out the traps before he got stuck, he knew exactly where to go and what to do, and I hated that. The book had no stakes. Nothing seemed like a struggle or trial for him, and he almost seemed robotic in how he was figuring things out. I got tired of him really fast.

Another issue I had with Red Rising was that the writing felt choppy and I found it hard to connect with Darrow or any of the characters. I liked him quite a bit in part one, but once he ascends and undergoes the procedures, he developed a totally different personality and I didn’t like him as much, and his personality (and subsequently the writing style since it’s told in first-person) started to feel robotic and distanced, which I didn’t like.

Pierce Brown also occasionally does a fair bit of showing rather than telling, so I found it hard to connect to the story at times, which was not good since I was already not interested in a great chunk of the plot.

The ending is rather anticlimactic. I do not like how Darrow was made into a savior figure and became almost godlike. I also hate how arrogant he is. Basically, I don’t like Darrow at all. At the beginning I did, but not after all his transformations.

I think the writing style is my biggest issue with Red Rising. I liked the idea of this book, and the setting and unique caste system were very cool, but Brown’s writing style and subsequently Darrow’s voice was just not working for me, and neither was the drawn-out game that comprised most of this book’s plot. I am still interested in the continuation of this story, so I will be finishing the trilogy at least, though I haven’t yet decided if I will read the spin-off sequels.

I expected to love Red Rising, and I’m really sad that I didn’t. I can definitely see why so many people do love it though. It’s a fast-paced competition story, which, unfortunately, is not my taste. The beginning was really good, but the rest was just not interesting to me and the plot got lost for a bit in the middle. If not for the first quarter of the story that I liked, this book would get two stars. I wish more parts of the book had been to my taste, but alas, we can’t win them all. I’m hoping because the whole competition game is done now that the next books will be more interesting to me, but we shall see.

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