Red Rising by Pierce Brown

Since my last review, I have been searching for a new book that could hold my interest. It has been surprisingly difficult, and I have put down at least four half-read books in the process. But finally, after much urging from my mother, I’ve found it. A book I actually thoroughly enjoyed. And Pierce Brown’s Red Rising is that book.

Red Rising is the first in a sci-fi trilogy, which bears some (though not too much) resemblance to the first draft of the book I’m trying to write. It is not perfect, by any means, but it is incredibly engrossing and fun to read, despite the fact that it contains content I don’t normally like (namely, war and excessive violence).

Brown’s plot development is clever and structurally predictable. It is very easy to tell when you’re approaching the inciting incident and the climax, and the try/fail arcs stand out so clearly that you can always tell when something bad is about to happen. However, the content of these arcs aren’t too predictable, and the narrative still managed to surprise me. In this way, Brown was able to take a very clear and easily defined plot structure and make it work to his advantage, which ultimately made for a more intense, well-developed narrative.

With that said, the beginning of the story seemed to lack proper set-up (something both my mom and Alex agreed with me on). Characters, settings, and stakes are introduced, but the reader isn’t given enough time to care about these things before being thrown into the inciting incident. Structurally, everything occurs at the right pace, but the intro feels emotionally disconnected. When I was talking about this to my mom, she couldn’t even remember who Eo was, highlighting how little impact she had on the reader, despite her impact on the plot and the protagonist.

The novel as a whole has several strengths. The world-building is engrossing and well thought-out, with Brown devoting much attention to things like technology and social hierarchy. New items are introduced without too much exposition, leaving the reader to define them via context. This is both clever and refreshing, and works to the novel’s advantage.

The majority of the characters are also interesting and likable. Since Darrow is infiltrating “the enemy” it’s nice to see this enemy humanized. Darrow even points out the moral grayness of the fact that he has developed friendships with members of the class he was determined to hate and must eventually destroy. The circumstances themselves are also gray, since the Golds subject their own children to similar brutality and subjugation as the lowReds in Lykos. The characters, while not too complex, have well-defined roles and relations to Darrow, making them easy to follow.

Similar to Ender in Ender’s Game, Darrow utilizes some innovative approaches to strategy and warfare, and his trials and failures influence his character development and views of the world. But while he has some great moments (one of my favorites being the whipping scene at House Ceres), it was difficult to get a firm grip on his character. His goals and personality seem inconsistent throughout the story. In the beginning, for example, one of the first things we see is him actively defying authority out of a sense of optimism. And yet, he reverses his position to submissive pessimism in the next scene. Up until his “rebirth” after his duel with Cassius, it was difficult to tell what made him special enough as a character to draw the attention and respect of the other characters. Other traits, however, like his determination and impulsiveness, manifest well in his encounters with the Proctors and other students and help increase the tension of the narrative as the reader wonders what he will do next.

I could honestly nitpick this all day, but out of fondness. None of these “flaws” that I can point out (other than the intro) detracted from my enjoyment of the book, and I can’t wait to read the next one.

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