Red Rising is the debut novel from author Pierce Brown which released in January 2014. From a first-person perspective, it depicts the struggle and cost of revolution set in a dystopian science fiction; wrought with the cruelties we, unfortunately, find in the world. For the sake of this in depth review of each book, there will be spoilers. The Red Rising series is one of the best things to happen to sci-fi in years and is now often drawn in the same breath as Ender's Game, The Hunger Games, and Game of Thrones. While this book is recommended for ages 12+, there is a lot of violence. As history has shown us all, the color of revolution tends to be blood red. I’ve given it a ⅘ stars.
It’s not easy being a Helldiver. You’re wrapped up in a suit made out of some kind of nano plastic which insulates from head to toe. Nothing gets in. Nothing gets out. Especially not the heat. Riding on the elbow of this massive mechanical arm, where the long fingers controlled and manipulated by a glove worn on the hand of our Helldiver melt the crust of the planet itself. Half a kilometer deep in the Planetary crust of Mars. The sweat stinks and stings your eyes. But the stink of your own piss is worse. If the heat doesn’t kill you, the pitvipers that live deep in the planet might, and if they don’t, well, there’s always hitting a pocket of gas to blow you and your own straight to hell. This is where we meet our hero, Darrow of Lykos. The greatest Helldiver of the Lambda Clan of Lykos.
Seven hundred years have passed since humanity has colonized the solar system. Humanity has evolved, with the help of genetic modification, and eugenics. A pyramid based caste system, The Society, rules the Colors of humanity. Gold is the peak. Red is the base.
Darrow is young, cocky, and knows that he has just mined enough helium-3 to win the Laurel, the sought-after prize for productivity in the mine. Everyone knows that Darrow boosted the numbers to win, he did so dangerously, almost costing him his life. But dangerous risks can yield vast rewards. The Lambda mine are passed over and cheated out of the Laurel and watch the extra food rations given to the neighboring mine, who always wins, Gamma. If not for his wife leading him away from the event he may have done something reckless. His wife, Eo, has fiery red hair, and red eyes, like him, like every Red. She’s small, far too thin, but has a ferocity to her. She has a gift for Darrow and pulls him along into the Webbery, where the women work. Eo found a broken section of motor which leads to a series of tubes and shafts. Darrow begrudgingly follows her, worrying about the risk of being caught, though Eo is insistent. Losing the Laurel was another in a series of cracks of Darrow's short life. Now Eo has taken Darrow to a place unfamiliar. Noises that aren’t recognized. Eo tells him that what he’s hearing are animals, what he’s feeling is grass. Trees. A forest. The scent of flowers. All these things that were only in the songs of his family and friends. Looking up, he sees the sky and stars for the first time in his sixteen years.
Darrow doesn’t understand, he is too taken aback by the glory of it all. Eo reminds him, harshly. They created this. They mined Mars for this. They were in the dark that this even existed. Eo tells Darrow he’s a slave, and at first, he denies her. He never begs like a slave, he earns his own. He’s a Helldiver who is obedient. There is nobility in obedience. Eo snaps at him, and I believe this is the turning point that drives the entirety of the series. Eo calls Darrow a talking puppet. How many years have Reds given blood and their lives for Colors who would never even sweat for them. She calls his dead father weak, and that he died for the right dream in protesting the Reds treatment but had no fight in him. The argument leads to a moment where Eo asks Darrow, ‘Do you know why I love you, Helldiver? Because you thought you could win the Laurel.’ Eo wants action out of Darrow. She is furious at her situation in life. She wants Darrow to be willing to risk his life, her life, to better their lot. To no longer be slaves. Darrow does not want to hang from the neck until he is dead. He does not want to be his father's son, in that respect. Eo tells Darrow that she lives for the dream that her children will one be born free. That they can do what they like. Darrow says that he lives for her.
Then you must live for more.
Living for more than one thing. It’s too easy to live for you and yours. When the entire world is burning down around you, you’d be a fool to think the flames wont catch your house too. Revolutionary thoughts expand from chaos and dreams of hope that are so fragile, uttering them aloud may be the most terrifying thing you can imagine. What if everyone you have ever known, and their fathers before them, believed a lie?
In silence, Darrow and Eo watch the only sunrise they’ll ever see together in their short lives. Eo says she has another gift for Darrow after they witness the beauty, and while following her out of the tunnels back to the mine, they are found by four Greys. They are to be whipped in public. After three days in a cell, the first thing Eo tells Darrow, “Break the Chains, my love.”
Darrow and his wire-thin wife are both whipped in front of the population of the mine and even the leader of Mars, ArchGovenor Nero au Augustus is in attendance. Darrow takes his whipping in silence. Eo has other plans during her own whipping. She sings an illegal song in protest and is then passed a sentence of death by hanging. Darrow is irate, begging to take her place. The entire mine is in an uproar.
Eo is proud in death, mouthing to Darrow Live for more. Screaming to the gathered crowd Break the Chains. A camera records the entire thing.
On Mars there is not much gravity, so you have to pull the feet to break the neck. They let the loved ones do it.
Darrow loses himself in grief, during the night he removes her dead body from the gallows she was left on and buries her in the forest she shows him. The Greys come for him the next day, put a rope around his neck, and Darrow’s uncle, Narol, is there to pull his feet. He gives Darrow a wink and pulls.
Darrow does not find Eo in the vale of death. He claws his way out of a shallow grave and finds himself in an abandoned mine. His uncle Narol did this. Darrow is met by two masked people, who he guesses are apart of the Sons of Ares. A shadowy organization who fight against The Society. Darrow is introduced to Dancer, a former Helldiver who works for the Sons. Darrow wants revenge against the man who murdered his wife, the ArchGovenor. Dancer tells Darrow that he sets his sights too low. Walking into the next room Darrow is caught blind. His eyes adjust, and an entire sprawling city horizon to horizon sits in front of him. His entire people have been deceived for far, far longer than realized. The cracks that appeared in Darrow now shatter.
The setup of the story is straight to the heart. Troupes on troupes. Darrow is a good man, he does not want to go to war, he wants to live with his wife and family and have children. Now, he has lost his wife, his entire life and purpose in it have been a lie. His people live for nothing, they die for nothing. Dancer and the Sons of Ares have a plan to infiltrate gold at its highest levels. The Sons of Ares want to put Darrow in the Institute of Mars, a training school for military officers. For their plans to work, Darrow would have to be carved. Physically, he will be different. Mentally, he has already changed.
I would have lived in peace. But my enemies brought me war.
Darrow has a subdermal data chip installed in his frontal lobe. The trauma of the procedure alone stopped his heart and put him in a coma for weeks. Golds have a bone density five times stronger than what naturally occurs on Earth. They need to make Darrow's bones six times stronger if he wants to succeed at the Institute. After the surgeries and hormone therapy, Darrow goes from 5’8 and is now 7 feet tall. The Carving alters the tensile strength of his tendons and muscle tissue. They remove his red wrist sigils and replace them with gold ones. Darrow is forced to live in manipulated heavy gravity, and incredible pain, to make him stronger. He is fed a healthy diet of red meats he has never known before. Lastly, and most painfully heartbreaking they remove his Red eyes and replace them with those of Gold. The Sons of Ares put Darrow into a concentration machine. A knight-like suit of armor that resists every movement he makes to increase his muscle density. Weeks of training has Darrow built like a God. His trainers become playthings for him. He can punch through a punching bag with ease. His body is becoming that of the race which conquered the Solar System. His brain evolves with him. He
Darrow is cultured by a Pink named Matteo. Matteo teaches Darrow to read and write, to speak like a Gold. He advised Darrow and kept his anger controlled. Darrow drinks tonics filled with processing enhancers and listens to speed-listens to books throughout the nights. He wakes up knowing three thousand years of literature and legal code and history.
It is here where Darrow says goodbye to his old self. The man he sees in the mirror is a stranger. Gold eyes staring into his Red soul. The destruction and horror of changing yourself down to the molecular level ignite the rage which will fuel Darrow for the years to come. If he wishes to succeed in his mission, he must be willing to go to any and every length necessary.
Look into yourself, Darrow, and you’ll realize that you are a good man who will have to do bad things.....
See. That’s what I don’t get. If I am a good man, then why do I want to do bad
The Institute of Mars
Darrow was accepted into the Institute of Mars after missing only one question out of hundreds on the entrance examination. He was drafted into House Mars by Fitchner, who is Mars’ Proctor. Early upon his arrival, Darrow befriended other Golds joining House Mars, among them two sons of the Bellona family, Cassius, and Julius. The next test was unknown, the Passage. Every student in every house faces off in a 1 vs 1 fist fight to the death. The winner moves forward with their studies. Darrow is forced to fight, and kill his new friend Julius. The remaining students are placed in their respective houses in a massive valley. The only objective of the Institute is to win and to win you must enslave every other House. House Mars was on rocky ground from the start, as different factions within developed. Darrow and Cassius lead the bulk of the house, though after a time a violent faction led by Titus grew bolder, forcing Darrow to align with House Minerva which was led by Mustang. Together they defeated Titus, who was executed by Cassius wrongly believing that Titus was Julian's murderer. During the conflict, Darrow captured House Minerva’s standard, allowing the enslavement of House Minerva by House Mars. Mustang was allowed to flee, and Darrow earned the status as Primus, earning the friendship of Sevro and his Howlers - a band of outcasts and misfits who were unusually skilled in combat while wearing the pelts of wolves. Cassius discovered the painful truth that Darrow murdered Julius and stabs him in the stomach in a duel. Darrow is left for dead in the mud until Mustang finds him and nurses him back to health during the winter.
Sharpened by hate. Strengthened by love.
It’s during this time that Fitchner visits Darrow and informs him of the interference of the Proctors on the Jackal’s behalf. Fitchner does all he can to dissuade Darrow to take further part in the competition, describing the Jackal’s brutal and cunning tactics - he seems unbeatable, and his reputation is terrifying. Fitchner also reveals that the Jackal is the son of none other than the ArchGovneror himself, Nero au Augustus, and has become Primus of House Pluto. The Proctors helping the son of the ArchGovenor infuriates Darrow. He starts to call himself The Reaper, and with Mustangs help the two of them amass an army of slaves who capture and free a great number of other students. Finally, we get to see what Darrow, The Reaper, does when he is in command of Gold. These people are taken aback, no one has ever tried to be on equal footing with one another in The Society before. Darrow fights for equality among ranks, and punishes wanton cruelty in his men. There’s moments when the fragility of it all feels like it’s about to break, but people are starting to trust him. His friends trust him, and most importantly, Darrow is starting to trust himself. Targeting House Mars, and using psychological warfare by carving his slingBlade on the doors inside the fortress that House Mars has, successfully lures out his old friend Sevro and his Howlers who join up with The Reaper. Darrow ends up capturing the Jackal, and in a stomach-twisting escape which leaves close friends that Darrow has made dead, the Jackal slips from his fingers.
The corruption of the Proctors and Golds give Darrow the rage he needs to assault the floating fortress of the Proctors, Mount Olympus. Darrow kills and captures men far above his station, but is unable to capture the Jackal. Mustang offers to take a portion of the army and pursue him. After leaving, Darrow finds out that she is actually the Jackals twin sister. Sevro informs Darrow that Fitchner is his father, and spares him the humiliation that the other Proctors receive. Mustang returned to Darrow with her twin brother captured, remaining loyal to the man she nursed back to health in a cave during the cold valleys winter. Darrow returns to House Mars and finds Cassius. His hair is matted with grit and grease and fleas. Cassius is the only Primus who never lost a battle, and as Darrow steps closer he flips the Primus badge to him, ultimately giving Darrow the win. By winning, Darrow is given the chance to choose a sponsor who will aid his rise through Gold Society. Darrow chooses the ArchGovenor himself. With him, I will rise… I will dive to hell in hopes of one day rising to freedom. I will sacrifice. And I will grow my legend and spread it amongst the peoples of all the worlds until I am fit to lead the armies that will break the chains of bondage because I am not simply an agent of the Sons of Ares. I am not simply a tactic or a device in Are’s schemes. I am the hope of my people. Of all people in bondage.
Darrow, Lancer of House Augustus. Rise.
For the year Darrow spent at the Institute he faced horrors he didn’t know existed in the world. It’s difficult to think that he’ll be able to keep his sanity in this madness that he’s jumped into at a full-speed sprint. During these formative years of youth, he has become a killer, an every second of the day liar, and is constantly scheming to end the very fabric of the society he now lives with. It’s nothing but an a wild turn of events as the next book unfolds of this epic space opera, Darrow must figure out how to make change happen, who in his small group of friends can he trust to help him bring down Gold Rule? Only the most careful steps can be taken in a universe where the wrong whisper from the wrong person means you and all those you care for are already dead.
Man cannot be freed by the same injustice that enslaved it.