It’s always hard to write a review of a popular piece of literature or an Oscar awarded movie. If you’ve loved it, it’s a bit less so, because as long as there’s praise in your words, you know at least so many people on Goodreads will stand with you on that or you can always lean on the millions of people who’ve filled the movie theatres.
When you have something less than applauding, though, there’s always this voice in the back of your head, telling you how you should think twice about this because of all those exceptional reviews.
For me, however, the exceptional reviews are not what makes the book itself exceptional. I believe that a less than stellar review can’t tear down a really good book. And since I think this book is good enough to take some three-star reviews, here is one:
Let’s start with the obvious stuff. Since this isn’t a new book – and no, I don’t usually care much about being late to the party – a lot of you probably already have an opinion about it and are clear on what was good and what wasn’t, but just in case you’re one of those who aren’t, let’s give you another point of view.
The obvious. There was some serious world building – castes, colours, hierarchy; all very well formed, in tight relationships and having specific interactions within one stratum or between members of two different ones. There’s different lingo, accessories, and even ethics from colour to colour. There were quite a few nice details intertwined in the story.
I loved the fact that the deeply buried link between the Reds and the Golds is delivered to us in the form of a song. Much like Rue’s four note song in The Hunger Games, in Red Rising we have a song as the flag of rebellion once again. Only this time, more is woven into lyrics and origin of the song.
Now, for the less obvious.
I was very much surprised when I started reading Red Rising and realised the story takes place on Mars. Cool, I thought, they’ve colonised the Solar system. I haven’t read anything like that in a long time. Then, a few days later, a character mentions them being on Mars again and I’m surprised, again. Not because my attention span is that short, but rather because there wasn’t anything Martian to the story once Darrow was introduced to the outside world.
I understand the idea of terraforming, and I appreciate the device used, but did it have to be sooo much like Earth? Couldn’t there be something, anything that could not be simulated on Mars – like snow, maybe? – or something that could have been similar but radically different, specific to Mars – Like plant or animal species? Knowing of and actually having horses is within reason, especially since horses end up being used actively during their “lessons”, but I found talk of elephants being over the top. If we’re talking future, at the rate animal species have been going extinct, even if we take into account those since men started taking notice, there surely would some that would not make the cut when colonising new planets, right?
What I’m getting at is that I saw little point of the book taking place on Mars if the only difference would be a slightly weaker gravitational pull.
As for the lessons themselves, as soon as Darrow is “carved” and sent into the Institute – I liked the carving idea, reminded me of Gattaca – the games start resembling the aforementioned very popular trilogy with “chosen ones” fighting for their spot at the top of the food chain. Only this time, it’s the other way around and it’s the privileged ones thrown into the pit. The survival of the fittest strategy is one way of teaching youngsters the importance of proper motivation, but it’s a pretty messed up civilisation if the leaders of the ruling class are letting their children be part of a culling. Disregarding the likelihood of the rich and powerful to simply sacrifice their precious offspring, the dark twists of the future don’t stop there.
*End of possible spoilers*
There are alliances forming and loyalties shifting, betrayals and strategies. I enjoyed the character development and the plotting and strategies, although the twists and backstabbing became so frequent, I found myself anticipating the next one.
However, the mix of swords and battle scenes – and futuristic gadgets like grav-boots and concealed armour to boot – works well on my childhood love of medieval fantasy and all of it, combined with some really good writing, makes for a highly readable piece of cross-genre YA. I will not be falling over myself recommending this book, but I am (finally) starting Book Two: Golden Son today, so Pierce Brown still has my attention. Maybe the second part would win me over once and for all.
Come by in about a fortnight to find out! 🙂