While at Phoenix Comic Con back in May, I spent a bit more time on the “Author” track than the “Comic” track for the first time and got to meet some really nice people. One of them was Pierce Brown, whom I got to do a panel with. I knew the name from the coverage we do on Dynamite Entertainment and their recent comics series Red Rising: Sons of Ares, a prequel to Brown’s popular Red Rising book series. The books have also been optioned by Universal Pictures with an eye on them being directed by World War Z director Marc Foster.
I had downloaded a copy of the Red Rising audiobook narrated by Tim Gerard Reynolds and had listened to a few chapters before the show, but got distracted by a few of my own projects and didn’t get back to it until last week.
The book is set on Mars in a societal class system with the Golds on top and the Reds on the bottom. The Reds work the mines, gathering the material need to terraform the planet. Darrow is a Helldiver; young, agile, and a bit crazy. He does the drilling and fights off the pit vipers to secure the most ore for his clan. The one with the most gets the Laurel, the monthly prize of extra supplies that would make his clans life better. The laurel always goes to Gamma, but Darrow is determined to win it for Lambda.
He pushes himself to the limit and outscores Gamma…only to see the laurel awarded to them anyway. This starts a tragic chain of events that takes Darrow from the hardworking and oppressive world of the Reds to the political and excessive world of the Golds. From there he ends up in a war game between the best the Gold’s have to offer, a game that is brutal, inhuman and rigged.
Darrow’s story is not that far from the classic story of Spartacus. A slave rises until he is accepted into society, becomes a legend and then tears it all down from the inside. The world Brown creates is vivid, detailed and worrisome in that it’s a future of humanity that, like all good science fiction, could become reality. It’s an indictment of the cast system and a reminder of how important it is to protect the concepts of democracy and equality.
Red Rising has some elements of a YA novel. The young lowborn (Darrow is 16 when this starts), thrust into the games of a society split by the haves and the have-nots. A society where humanity and decent have been cast aside in favor of power and privileged. But the subject matter at times is more mature. This feels like the book you give someone who is getting tired of Divergent, The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner.
This was Brown’s first published work, after he’d received 120 rejection letters — shows his determination. He does a great job of building an interesting universe full of unique characters. You easily become invested in Darrow, all that he’s lost and all that he goes through. You watch him grow and learn and become a hero you want to succeed. Brown has another thing he does — and I have yet to figure out if he does it on purpose. He telegraphs bad things coming. Like someone saying, “What’s the worst that can happen?” and you know that the worst is about to happen. He builds an almost uncomfortable sense of dread, that at two different times in the book made me walk away for a day or so. But the third time this occurs, the worst doesn’t happen, and you’re left feeling great relief.
Red Rising is followed by Golden Sun and Morning Star, the initial trilogy. Brown has a new book that picks up 10 years after Morning Star and continues the story of Darrow. It’s the start of a new trilogy and hits stores on January 16th, 2018.
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