Set in the distant future, where the human race is divided by a rigid class system of colours, colonies of Red miners toil under the surface of Mars, harvesting natural elements that will terraform its surface and make it an inhabitable environment in the future. Sixteen year old Darrow is one of these Reds, born underground and raised to risk his life on a daily basis. Food is scarce and life expectancy is short. The rules are enforced by a strict hierarchical class system that’s preceded over by the Gold’s – supposedly superior to all other colours both physically and mentally. When Darrow discovers that his life is built on a lie, he’s given a dangerous mission to integrate himself into the very heart of Gold society.
Darrow is sent to the Institute, where young Gold’s play deadly games to win power. It’s a trial by fire that is designed to push them to the limits and teach them how to wage war and become the leaders of tomorrow. Weakness isn’t tolerated and not everyone will make it through. Parallels could be drawn to the Hunger Games, but it’s a very different type of competition. The aim here is for power and ultimate victory – achieved through intellect and strategy and the ability to command their peers.
Darrow is a great character. He’s definitely not perfect – he’s reckless, angry and overly bold. He’s smart but he also shows that he can be ruthless and brutal. This means that he’s not always a particularly likeable character, but you still end up rooting for him all the same. Throughout the book he goes through some intense challenges, questioning his own identity, who to trust and what actions can be justified for the greater good.
There are inevitably a lot of the generic running themes that seem to pop up in every dystopian YA – a challenging and brutal landscape, segregated society and a deadly competition, as well as an angry and repressed protagonist rising up against the ruling classes. That said, I think the author does enough to make Red Rising stand apart from the masses.
There are plenty of action scenes and the tension remains ramped up all the way through. There are also ongoing political undercurrents as Darrow struggles to keep his ultimate goal of infiltrating the highest level of society within his grasp. Immediately after finishing this book I downloaded and binge-read the next two in the series – and as much as I liked this book, I think they get even better as they goes on.