Red Rising
Pierce Brown
Pierce Brown
2014 • 400 pages


Average rating4.3


Christ.It's not often that the comp titles listed on the front cover or in press releases of a book are so completely accurate. There are scenes in Red Rising that could have been lifted straight from [b:Ender's Game 375802 Ender's Game (The Ender Quintet, #1) Orson Scott Card 2422333], there's even a direct reference to its characters. You can see the traces of [b:The Hunger Games 2767052 The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games, #1) Suzanne Collins 2792775]'s Roman-based elite dystopian society in the characters names. Everywhere in this book you can see where pieces from other stories were picked up and scrambled together. In anyone else's hands Red Rising would have been extraordinarily derivative. But put together by Pierce Brown, it is fucking brilliant. This book chews up all those conventions and tropes and turns them into a gory masterpiece. This book is a beast with a bloody red maw.I didn't get into this book for the plot, or the hype, or even Brown's pretty face. I decided a while ago that I was pretty much done with stories about kids killing each other over abitrary titles. It wasn't even any of the soaring reviews that convinced me. It was the writing. I saw samples of what this kid can do, and I thought, well shit, if the rest of the book is like that it'll be worth it. And its true, his prose is beautiful, but its more than that. I was talking to my mother a while back about how, regardless of how enjoyable a work by a young author is, you still can often see the gaps. There's almost always a kind of incompleteness, in the world-building or the story-telling or the character development. It can often be ignored to some degree, but it keeps you from getting completely engrossed. There are no gaps here. I am stunned by Brown's level of ability, not just for a young author, but for any kind of writer. He is up there with Ian McDonald and Glen Duncan for me right now, the kind of writers that inspire the most profound envy in me. In a way, I think my love for this book is an unrequited relationship. I love it, and it doesn't love me back. It stressed me out. Every time I picked it up, it slapped me in the face and walked away laughing. It's brutal, but there's such delight in its brutality. The writing is animal, the pages breathe and bleed. Imma be real, I drifted a little when there was a lot of battle tactics and strategies being discussed. Brown also has a thing for skimming, stretches of time flicker by in a paragraph, and some of the hardest parts he lets you take a step back from. But you get dragged back in so quickly by Darrow. I giggled and danced at his every triumph, his wild humor, his ecstatic approach to violence and war. Terrible things happen during this game he plays, but still it is a game, and Darrow revels in moving his pieces around as well as smashing them to bits.The plot moves constantly, like Darrow, you're never given any chance to rest or let your guard down. There's also the human, emotional element. I will admit, I'm a little wary. I love books like N.K. Jemisin's [b:The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms 6437061 The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (The Inheritance Trilogy, #1) N.K. Jemisin 6626657] that give their oppressive villains no quarter. These people already have voices, and the tendency for stories to give wicked powerful people more room to be sympathetic is an old one. But it's still useful for a narrative like this. Darrow is not fighting robots, he has to entrench and assimilate himself to a society and then destroy it from the ground up. To do this, he has to know them, even love them. And Darrow loves powerfully, because he's wildly passionate and ultimately a good person. He loves Cassius who is the epitomy of Gold elitism, he loves the poet Roque who never really says anything poetic until the very end. He loves the Goblin Sevro, and god so do I, in all that boy's rabid quiet fury. And he loves Mustang, the girl who reminds so much of his late wife, so much that I was starting to think Brown was fucking with me (which is a fair assumption to make, at all times). In fact, Darrow's most difficult moment comes when he finds another Red like him, disguised among the Golds. He doesn't demonize the Golds, probably never did, like he says at the beginning of his story, he was a good slave. When he is near death at one point, he imagines his wife with golden hair, because he believes that in the afterlife that's how she would be rewarded. Even after everything he had been through, everything he's seen, he still sees them as superior. Brown has a way of drawing emotion in a truly naked way. The gloss of pretty words and a thickening plot get stripped back, and there's just a teenage boy who wants to go home, sleep next to his wife and dig. His loneliness got to me. Maybe it's because it's the dead of winter now, but open spaces around me suddenly seemed a lot bigger. Like I said, this book stressed me out. A part of me wants to run as far away from it as possible, read about something silly and happy next. The rest of me is craving the catharsis of the next book, because maybe it'll fix everything that the first has messed up in me. More likely it just ruin me even more.

February 24, 2014