[Review] Red Rising by Pierce Brown

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3 stars
ARC received from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I must make a confession.

I read this book because of the promotion and hype associated with it on Twitter and Goodreads. Normally, this form of aggressive marketing results in me ignoring the book until the hype burns down. Often, when I come back to the book, I find the hype completely justified but this time I want to kick myself for being so gullible. I blame jet lag.

I want to preface this review with one idea I have been pondering, which may be untrue and is certainly not based on fact. I will risk saying it. YA writers have a hard time creating realistic characters (as do we all), and the problem is two fold. The writer is either too young to write well and their ideas are not completely thought out so you get arrogant stories full of soliloquizing how wonderful they are and how no one cares enough to understand them -or- the writer is too old, psychologically, and the feelings and emotions of this in between age are lost, faded memories resulting in characters who have wisdom beyond their years and are not accurate reflections.

I have great respect for those who write YA and I would not know where to start. This is also because I secretly read Pet Cemetery by Stephen King at 13 and never looked back when it came to age appropriate literature.

Let me go through Red Rising one step at a time.

At 5% I highlighted the sentence “The Sons think we are mistreated, so they blow things up. It is a pointless tantrum.”

Reaction: thoughts of suicide bombers, Iraq, Syria, MH17, Ukraine, Russia. It read as an extremely plausible connection to the current geopolitical situations around the globe.

At 12%, in the chapter entitled “The Martyr” I started to wonder where the author was going. Here was an interesting plot, with characters beginning to grow in my mind and take form, set on a planet currently uninhabitable, with people doing jobs that don’t exist under an unfair, unbalanced hierarchy we can all identify with. Then all of a sudden, other than to progress the plot (lazily) there’s a bitter affair. I’m not going to give anything away here, suffice to comment that the sacrifice is ludicrous, the emotion isn’t quite right and yet the reader is expected to care. The most thrilling part of this section is one particular paragraph, “Then the thumping of the Fading Dirge begins. Fists on chests. Fast, like a racing heartbeat. Slower. A beat a second. A beat every five. Every ten. Then never again, and the mournful mass fades away like dust held in the palm as the old tunnels wail with deep winds.”

This paragraph works. It highlights what seems to be engagement with anthropological and ethnographic studies of group reactions with a death. Reaching the end of the book, this is, sadly, the first and last time the writing achieved an emotional reaction. Thankfully, having read other reviews, I am far more at ease with admitting to boredom through great chunks of the remainder.

I must make another confession. I haven’t read or watched The Hunger Games but unless you have been living under a rock, there is no way you avoided the juggernaut it is.

In Red Rising the students make their way through the Passage and into the Game where House is pitted against House and they make ‘war’ against each other. It develops, fairly obviously, to be a war against the Proctors. I won’t go further on this my aim in this review is not to spoil the main thread.

I cannot finish this review without mentioning the irritating demi-god, Darrow. To be honest, Darrow was not irritating in the beginning. Sure, he was cocky and very pleased with himself but he’s 16. Who at 16 didn’t think they were perfect and wonderful. It is unfortunate though that Darrow doesn’t grow and become something more robust. He devolves into a caricature of his original self and the original condition of his situation, his ‘carving’ and his relationships with Dancer and Eo are lost to him self aggrandizing and feeling wounded.

The author, threw Darrow, appears to lose sight of the original driving point of the plot. Contributing further to the aforementioned boredom, is never being exposed to the thoughts and opinions of the other characters. It is an easy way of avoiding character development but it is also lazy when, in book two, the reader will be expected to remember and perhaps empathise with one dimensional and forgettable characters. Even the “bad guy” is under developed and no more nuisance than a slapped mosquito.

Some other readers and bloggers have suggested that Darrow is a prime example of a Mary Sue but of the reviews I’ve read, they all stop short of pinning this label to him. I think the term “Mary Sue”, now so prominently in use, is transcendent of gender and can be applied to any character fitting the profile. For Red Rising, however, I want to allow a little bit of leeway because the author himself is only 26 and what he has written and the backing he has amassed, suggests someone believes in his capability as a writer. Unfortunately, I cannot count myself as one of them and probably won’t read further instalments.

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