Darrow O’Lykos, our protagonist and narrator, is a hell diver of Mars, working to provide for his young wife by mining a precious resource used in the terraforming of planets. His life as a Red is harsh. The Reds’ supervisors keep them fighting amongst factions within their home to keep them docile and controlled. But when tragedy strikes Darrow, he is thrust into the world beyond his mines. The Reds have been fed lies.
Now, paired with a faction of freedom fighters called the Sons of Aries, Darrow sacrifices everything he has ever known to join the ranks of the Golds, the ruling elite in this sprawling galaxy. With forged credentials, he is able to infiltrate the brutal institute where tomorrow’s overlords earn their reputations or die trying.
What struck me first and foremost is Darrow’s voice. It is urgent and full of grit. He is a blue collar worker just trying to make ends meet. The entire world is against him, and he doesn’t even know it. His dogged determination is perhaps his most pronounced characteristic, even as his ambitions grow over the course of the story. His loyalties are to his people and his cause, which makes his increasing understanding and sympathy for his fellow Golds all the more confusing.
Brown does an impressive job of showing the best and the worst of humanity in every caste from Red to Gold. Yes, each color was genetically engineered to behave certain ways and fulfill a function (effectively making slaves of everyone), but those who shake off the chains of their design and upbringing burn bright.
The ensemble cast is remarkable. It is the mark of an author who knows their business when they can make the reader care for a character they have only just met. Brown does this over and over again, breaking the reader’s heart just to mend it a few pages later to break it again. The story is incredible, subverting expectations at the right moments to make the triumphs all the more gratifying. The victories feel hard won. The losses are devastating.
If you have yet to read Red Rising, I can’t think of a better time to do so. It effortlessly blends the best parts of Hunger Games and Ender’s Game but with a voice like Royal Assassin’s FitzChivalry Farseer. Mind you, this is not a YA book. Darrow may be young, but he is an old soul. This is a complicated world, written in a vital voice and dealing with deep issues of racism, oppression, revolution, betrayal, and the beauty of forging new relationships. So if all of that sounds good to you, head straight to your nearest independently owned bookstore and pick up a copy for yourself. This trilogy is complete, and the second trilogy has only one installment left.
Don’t be left behind when Red rises.