I’ll circle back to that setup later, but for now lets talk about the characters. Brown does an excellent job of showing you the personalities in the novel through Darrow’s eyes. Like any really great first-person narration, everything we witness is cast through the lense of our protagonist’s observations. As such, we see characters first through Darrow’s kneejerk reactions and then as he comes to know the individuals more fully, we realize the shades of gray within them. The other characters are well told and feel real immediately, but Darrow’s distance from everyone else in the story does prevent any of the other characters from being particularly deep, even if they are memorable. On the other hand, Darrow himself is a well-rounded protagonist and his perspective is unique, likeable, and continually evolving throughout the story. There are some cringey moments though. Everyone is a genius and a badass in this story, which fits the worldbuilding, but there are a couple of instances where this led to corny bits I just tried to move past.
The worldbuilding in the Red Rising is stellar. The simple yet memorable premise of colors representing castes in a dystopian society makes for a blockbuster novel. Pierce Brown so artfully shows us the idyllic beauty of the oppressed that the struggle is instantly iconic. He takes what could have been cheesy, and executes it with such skill that this world becomes, not only real, but beautiful, maddening, and utterly engrossing.
The first act of this book set the stage for a sci-fi uprising story told with haunting beauty and a little cyberpunk flair. Yet, what we get is a Hero Academy trope. It’s hard to get too deep into this without giving away big spoilers so I will simply say, that while the second and third acts were still good, were still entertaining, they definitely felt like a let down to me. It could be argued that these were a necessary element to include for the overarching story to make sense, but in my opinion the story failed to deliver on the promise of its setup.
Now don’t get the misconception that I didn’t enjoy this book. I did. It is very well paced, and a novel that will surely grip its reader throughout. Pierce Brown has a gift for setting up chapter structures that feel satisfying and yet dangle the next plot thread, keeping the reader tantalized and turning pages. His prose are also spectacular. He illustrates his world vividly and uses language to engage emotion with equal skill.
On the one hand, I did not enjoy a large section of the plot, but that’s not really fair. I did enjoy it, it just wasn’t what I was hoping for. It felt like a diversion. It felt like a third of the way through the book, the writer said to himself, I could make this a series, and I could appeal to a younger audience. It was still, cool, and fun, and well written, but for all that, it felt like a little bit of a let down.