“If you led others to freedom. The things you could do, Darrow. The things you could make happen.” She pauses and I see her eyes are glistening. “It chills me. You have been given so, so much, but you set your sights so low.”
“You repeat the same damn points,” I say bitterly. “You think a dream is worth dying for. I say it isn’t. You say it’s better to die on your feet. I say it’s better to live on your knees… What do you live for?” I ask her suddenly. “Is it for me? Is it for family and love? Or is it for some other dream?”
“It’s not just some dream, Darrow. I live for the dream that my children will be born free. That they will be what they like. That they will own the land their father gave them.”
“I live for you,” I say sadly.
She kisses my cheek. “Then you must live for more.”
Pierce Brown's Red Rising received strong critical reviews after its release in January of 2014. By February, it had made the New York Times' best-seller list, and Universal Pictures had won a 7-figure bidding war for the movie rights (World War Z’s Marc Forster is slated to be at the helm). The second book in the trilogy, Golden Son, has just been released. So far, it's getting even better reviews than Red Rising. If you are looking for the next big YA dystopia, this is it.
Red Rising takes place on Mars, where a ruling class of Golds live luxurious, decadent lives made possible by the Reds, slaves sequestered underground. They think they are working to make the planet habitable; they have no idea they are being cruelly exploited. When Darrow, a slave, discovers what is happening, he is offered the chance to become a Gold and fight his way to the top of Gold society through a daunting Hunger Games-style contest. He agrees. After all, the Golds had just killed his young wife. And right before she died, she had told him that he must live for more. He could honor his request and get his vengeance.
After a series of brutal surgeries that modify his strength, speed and appearance, he enters a contest designed to separate the weak from the strong. Though his cause is just, Darrow’s thirst for vengeance threatens to turn him into the monsters he had determined to overthrow. At one point he notes, “It’s hard to look at myself in the mirror. I am what I know the devil to be. I am arrogance and cruelty, the sort of man who killed my wife. I am Gold. And I am as cold as it.”
One of his handlers, Dancer, tries to mollify him by saying, “Look into yourself, Darrow, and you’ll realize that you are a good man who will have to do bad things.” Darrow’s having none of it. “See, that’s what I don’t get. If I am a good man, then why do I want to do bad things?” He sees himself as “Darwin’s scythe. Nature scraping away the chaff.” He's become the kind of person he hates. He's entered into the society he has come to destroy. And he's starting to like it.
In one of his first tests, he is forced into a room with another fighter knowing that only one of them will come out alive. Darrow slaughters him as he begs for his life. Rather than giving him a thirst for more bloody vengeance, it reminds him that he has undergone all the modification and training to overthrow a system that dehumanizes and destroys. That which the Golds had intended to numb him to the reality of what he was doing actually brings him back to the reality – and the grim necessity – of what he needs to do.
“All my people sing of are memories. And so I will remember this death. It will burden me as it does not burden my fellow students – I must not let that change. I must not become like them. I’ll remember that every sin, every death, every sacrifice, is for freedom.”
If you are looking for a comparison, Red Rising is more adult than The Hunger Games but nowhere near as graphic as Game of Thrones. You will cringe as you see hearts full of darkness, greed, and a lust for power willingly sacrifice anything to get what they want. You will also find yourself pulling for the characters who fight not only for justice around them, but for the goodness within them to win in the end. Their souls may be scarred – it is the price of war – but they will not be broken, they will not give up, and they will not become the enemy. They will live for more.
I don't recommend to my teenage sons that they read every book I read (I'm talking to you, Horns), but I did recommend this one. They devoured it. It's worth a lot to me to find a story that a) my sons and I can enjoy together, and that b) speaks to aspects of being a man that I want my boys to absorb. So, yeah, I liked it. A lot. Here's hoping the rest of the series builds on this solid foundation.