Updated: May 7, 2020
Author Webpage: Red Rising | TJ Klune Stars: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Hints of: The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Expanse, Series Ender's Game
Warnings: The book does touch on serious violence or violent acts - hangings, rape and explicit murder. I'd suggest it's not appropriate for children under the age of 14. Other Triggers: The outdoors, white male aggression, roman mythology, filthy liars, arrogant rich teenagers.
Darrow is a miner and a Red, a member of the lowest caste in the color-coded society of the future. Like his fellow Reds, he digs all day, believing that he and his people are making the surface of the planet livable for future generations. Darrow has never seen the sky. Yet he spends his life willingly, knowing that his blood and sweat will one day result in a better future for his children. But Darrow and his kind have been betrayed. Soon he discovers that humanity already reached the surface generations ago. Vast cities and sprawling parks spread across the planet. Darrow and Reds like him are nothing more than slaves to a decadent ruling class. Inspired by a longing for justice, and driven by the memory of lost love, Darrow joins a resistance group in order to infiltrate the ruling class and destroy society from within. He will stop at nothing to bring down his enemies … even if it means he has to become one of them to do so.
A friend of mine suggested this book series about a month ago. I've fallen into this habit of picking 1 or 2 books a month that aren't "new releases" - by the majority of "bookstagram" they're considered old. But they have sister books which have recently dominated stores. Frankly I kind of dig the trend. I've done this now with The Night Circus, The Wheel of Time and Station Eleven. This book was published in 2014. The latest - and 4th - book in the series was just released this year.
The book took all of 36 hours to read. But I had a personal judgment journey that was a first for me. Hear me out. Going in, I heard nothing but great things. I was PUMPED. It's The Hunger Games in SPACE! It's a mythological Ender's Game. It's a more complex Divergent.
But 25 pages in, 75 pages in, 125 pages in - I'm bored and predicting everything that happens. Because being honest this concept isn't new. The "working class nobody" who is thrown into a political/literal/classism war bigger than they ever realized but they end up realizing their potential can save the world(s), yada, yada, yada.
So needless to say I was very disappointed. I knew I'd finish the book - it takes a lot for me to pull a DNF - but I hate when I can't share the same excitement in a series others clearly do. Then about 250 pages in - halfway through the book - it gets LIT. After that, every chapter there's a TWIST! I don't expect. I think I read the 2nd half of the book in 4 hours.
Moral of the story? Try not to judge a book on it's set-up. I'm honestly the worst at this. I do this with TV shows as well. GET MY ATTENTION OR GET OUT. However, I eat my words this time. Kudos, Mr. Brown.
Alright. 700 years ago the Moon colony "Luna" that Earth developed decided it was tired of Earth's shit. So it came home to wreak havoc on Mom and Dad. It's been under "The Society" rule ever since. The Society sent citizens out to other plants - who were to become "Reds" - to terra-form so they could expand and survive. This first book focuses on Mars.
Honestly I cannot make the rest "spoiler free" so if you haven't read it, I'd suggest stopping here if you are interested.
I'm going to break this review down by major themes. Can you say throwback to 9th grade English? LISTEN. It's gonna be fun. Get ready.
This book has a a similar dystopian future like The Hunger Games or Ender's Game. In all three series, Classism is clearly the driver of the series. In Red Rising, people are separated into classes by colors. See below for said diagram.
When the book opens - it's on young Darrow of Lykos - a "Red" who is "mining" the way for citizens of Earth to continue to survive. They are "laying the groundwork" and "saving humanity." Yea it was about 3 pages in when I was like, nah son. What's up with that?
I thought there were colonies on Mars they were being lied about, definitely. But Mars is essentially fully developed. Reds are the blue collar, factory workers who continue to mine oxygen to stabilize the atmosphere. While down in the mines, the reader is introduced to grays - typical soldiers. Obsidians - born & bread militants. And, Golds. The rulers of The Society.
When the Sons of Ares save Darrow, and hatch their plan to infiltrate The Institute, we discover the plethora of other colors. First - Reds are literally called "LowReds" or "HighReds". Either miners or street cleaners. But the book distinctly calls Reds slaves. It asks the question - is it better to be an unknowing LowRed or be a HighRed who knows their kind is enslaved?
When Darrow is re-made into a Gold, it is by Mickey, a "purple" AKA artisan, artist, etc. There are also Blues, Oranges, Greens, Silvers, Whites - various fields like law, clergy, medicine, etc. Golds are also divided like Reds. You have Bronzes - "LowGolds" born into outlying Gold families. Pixies - Golds who are basically just a waste on society and family that drink and party. Peerless Scared - the highest of Golds. There is also a number of mentions of Iron Golds - the "Golds of Old" who conquered Earth.
Next theme: Mythology. The book has an intriguing take Roman mythology. When Darrow passes his tests to make it into The Institute, he is recruited by House Mars. There are approximately 13 houses - all named after Roman Gods. Mars, Pluto, Venus, Minerva, Jupiter, Bacchus. Juno. Ceres. Mercury. Diana. Neptune. Vulcan. Apollo. After "The Passage" the houses are put into a simulation.
The book begins separates - and I ate my words - from The Hunger Games during the simulation . Unlike The Games in Suzanne Collins' books. The Institute has designed this simulation as a test to discover how to build a society. Characters like Darrow have major character arcs, having to work with friends, enemies and play politics to get to the top. You can't just rely on your physical build to get ya out of this ish.
What I find interesting is Roman mythology is an Earth-based concept. Adopting it to build The Society seems like a backwards move for a conquering group. But nonetheless, it is this mythology that encourages the "rebellious group" called the Sons of Ares to form. Ares is a Greek God - Darrow's Uncle Narrow arranged for him to be saved by these folks portrayed as rule-breakers set out to ruin the goal of establishing colonies. When in reality, they know the truth about the world above the mining colonies.
Last theme: Family. At an earlier point in the book, when asked if he pledges first to House Apollo given his (false) family heritage, he says no. Why? A Gold's first loyalty is to Color (classism), then family, then planet, then House (mythology). Just because someone is a Gold doesn't mean they're accepted by Society. Remember - Bronzes and Pixes are Golds. Darrow is introduced to major families at The Institute - Family Bellona (Cassius) and Family Augustus are major warring families on Mars. A third family on Mars is Arcos - the Rage Knight's home. It's a little confusing until about halfway through that while the recruits first are recruited by House, the major aim is for an elite apprenticeship. If you don't come from an elite family, your trying to impress an elite family at The Institute. A couple of my favorite moments - or should I say TWISTS! - revolve around family bonds. During "The Passage", Darrow is forced to kill Cassius' brother Julian who is clearly weaker. The Proctors attempting to rig the game reveal this to Cassius about two-thirds of the way into the book and Cassius tries to kill Darrow. He is blinded that Darrow would have had to die if he'd refused. Another TWIST! is The Jackal is of House Augustus - his family, home to ArchGovernor Augustus, is rigging the game to make sure he wins. Lastly, and my favorite TWIST! - Mustang of House Minerva - is THE JACKAL'S TWIN SISTER. OF HOUSE AUGUSTUS.
This was right near the end of the book, when Darrow stormed Olympus TO SAVE MUSTANG OF HOUSE AUGUSTUS UNKNOWINGLY. So obviously, family is stronger than House, so Mustang will betray Darrow. WRONG! Another TWIST! She brings her twin brother back bound & gagged to Olympus for Darrow. Darrow wins. HUZZAH!
Alright, so let's do a final pretty wrap with a bow to end this set. Why 4 stars vs 5 stars? Because of the first 150 pages of somewhat predictable story lines. It's the last 200 pages make the book stand out from others.
I enjoyed the layers of class this book had. Unlike comparable series, not just your color matters. Your family matters (who you know). Your planet (AKA where you're from) matters. Your House (a comparable stretch could be university, political affiliation, etc.) matters. That is STRAIGHT UP real life. You can look like you belong, but if you don't have the right connections, the proper upbringing, the right internships, then you don't matter.
I said it before, but I enjoyed Darrow's character arc. In comparable books, the hero remains a hero. In Red Rising, Darrow let's power and brawn take over his better judgment. His greed makes him lose and end up half-dead in the mud. Only through pairing with leftovers - Mustang of House Minerva - outcasts (the "Shamed" who left their slave posts") and weak (House Ceres) does he end up beating the game.
It was halfway through this review when I related the classes by "color" to the racism in our reality. So there shows my privilege as a white woman. I didn't want to leave this out once I realized it, even if it mean accepting that I overlooked a major point of the book series.
As I said in the "Fun Wrap-Up", break it down from there and much more than your color matters. But Darrow has to literally strip his skin to earn a spot in The Institute - to be accepted based on his color versus his capabilities. The entire book is focused on how a Red can actually beat a Gold, even if a Gold is given advantages a Red has never had - breeding, money, wealth, power, connections.
The Reds are called slaves by the rest of The Society - a society that manipulated this group, lied to them, kept them from the same privileges - and yet still thinks they're better by birth. It is a very real comparison to our real world. I'm interested in how Darrow's story line progresses. After winning, will he actually lead a rebellion to be potentially beat back down? Will he become accustomed to his lifestyle and forgo the Son of Ares plan? Stay Tuned.
“Man cannot be freed by the same injustice that enslaved it.”