“Funny thing, watching gods realize they’ve been mortal all along.” -Pierce Brown, Red Rising
If you haven’t read the Red Rising Trilogy then go. Now. I’m waiting. Seriously, it’s so good I binge listened to it on Audible in like two weeks and these are not short books. It is nothing short of bloody damn fantastic! The universe that Pierce Brown manages to create sucks you right in and the depth of the characters that he creates makes them feel like you really know them. After Hunger Games I got pretty sick of how many dystopian universe books were popping up and had just about given up finding one that stood out, but in a sea of dull gray the Red Rising Trilogy is pure color. Yes, it has parallels to Hunger Games, but this is like Hunger Games’ evil, heinous second cousin full of darkness, violence and brutality.
In the first novel we meet Darrow, a 16-year-old miner in the deep underground of Mars, who is terraforming the planet to help make it habitable for other humans to live on. Or so he thinks. Hundreds of years from now humans have broken themselves down into a caste system of color with each color serving a different purpose in the community. Darrow, with his red eyes, small stature and red sigils belongs to the lowest group called Reds and none of them know that they are toiling away on their noble mission to make Mars habitable for others when it already is. They have been kept in the dark literally and metaphorically to the bustling world above them.
When Darrow and beautiful, vibrant wife are caught by the guards enjoying a forbidden garden it ends up leading to Eo and Darrow being sentenced to execution, but everything changes for Darrow when he is saved from the brink of death by a rebel group known as The Sons of Ares. A group of people from all colors who are set on bringing down the hierarchy of colors and creating an equal playing field where everyone has the chance to prosper much like the societal norms of our way of life in America currently, but better. Darrow is left with no time to mourn the loss of his beloved wife when he becomes tasked with infiltrating the highest echelon of the colors, gold. He soon starts out on a journey full of loss, triumph, betrayal, espionage and, most of all, love.
I adore how Brown doesn’t create a universe of magic or supernatural, but a realistic realm that could very much be the one we create centuries from now. A universe with it’s own language, history and mythology. Much like Game of Thrones, the author isn’t afraid to kill off beloved characters and knowing that your favorite character could be the one to die at any moment keeps you enthralled until the very end of the third book. This is not a Young Adult book despite the main character being 16-years-old so be prepared for a lot of bloody scenes that will leave you cringing and/or weeping.
What I truly love is that Brown doesn’t write any of his characters to be perfect. He doesn’t make Darrow faultless and he shows him realizing his own failings and growing. Darrow is also not blameless and never pretends to be. He know he must do dark acts to bring freedom for all and you get to read along as he copes with what he has done and what he must still do.
A whole cast of characters is brought alive when Darrow must infiltrate the school that all elite Golds go to in order to rise in stature. My favorite character, Sevro, a Gold with crude speech and a brash manner starts off as a wolfish loner and grows into much more. You see him learn from his mistakes and grow, but he never loses who he is at the core and that is a testament to Brown’s fantastic writing. His characters are organic. They grow and change, but never in a way that seems like it’s just done to force the plot along.
Despite a world of horror where the powerful are more the devil than the devil himself you get to see the goodness that lives on as well. The goodness that can be planted and flower despite all the darkness surrounding it. The Red Rising Trilogy doesn’t try and make you swallow the old cliche that good will always conquer evil. It shows that even in the darkest places light can live and change is not always pretty.
If you’re looking for a book to read to escape your humdrum life and wrap you in its brutal embrace than this is the trilogy, but be forewarned, I’ve had trouble getting interested in any other books since I finished the last book. Pierce Brown, what have you done to me!?