(The Red Rising trilogy, Book 1)
DESCRIPTION: In a future where humanity has spread throughout the Solar System, a new social order based on genetically-modified races holds sway. The Golds reign supreme, with their godlike bodies and altered brains, while Pinks provide pleasure, Greens deal with technology, Coppers man the sprawling bureaucracy, and more... all Colors ranking above the lowly Reds, toiling at the bottom of the empire. Sixteen-year-old Darrow, like most of his fellow Reds in the mines of Mars, believes that his sweat and blood and abbreviated lifespan will buy a better future as the helium-3 he risks life and limb to extract terraforms the hostile surface. His wife Eo feels differently, but Darrow refuses to listen. His father, after all, hung for such beliefs. But then the Golds cheat his clan from their earnings and take Eo's life, leaving Darrow with nothing but pain and rage. It is then that he's contacted by the notorious Sons of Ares, a group painted as cold-blooded terrorists by Gold-sponsored propaganda. Mars, it turns out, was terraformed generations ago; the Reds toil in ignorance for the profit of others, and everyone Darrow ever loved will die for the same lie if nothing is done. The Sons offer Darrow a chance at revenge, not just against the people who hung his wife but against Golds across the system. To do it, he has to shed his Red skin at the hands of a rogue surgeon, joining the enemy ranks to learn their ways and destroy their empire from the inside. But life as a Gold is about more than arrogance and privilege, as Darrow finds himself enrolled at the prestigious Martian Institute and learns just how complicated war, loyalty, and even love truly are beyond the mines of Mars.
REVIEW: In the vein of The Hunger Games, with a touch of Metropolis and Lord of the Flies, this tale deftly transports the by-now familiar
formula of an underdog taking on the corrupt Establishment into a future based on the Roman Empire. Darrow doesn't start out to be a hero, fully convinced that the system
isn't rigged and that the reason he and his Lambda clan haven't prospered is entirely their own fault for not striving as hard as the Gammas, who somehow perpetually win the Laurel bonuses of motivation in their monthly contests. His wife Eo (though only sixteen, short lives lead to lower marrying ages among Reds) seems more a symbol than a person, a born martyr designed to give Darrow the final push towards revolution. He quickly learns that, despite innate cleverness and an all-consuming determination to destroy the murderers of his wife, he's far from ready to take on the complicated above-ground world, let alone his enemies. Even with intensive training, he makes several costly mistakes as he struggles to keep his wife's dream of freedom for Reds alive while maintaining his cover (and saving his own skin) in the crucible of the Institute. Other characters add depth and complication to what could've been a fairly flat, Color-stratified world. He finds loyalty and treachery, beauty and ugliness, and more in many unexpected places. The crucible of the Institute pits him against other Gold-born youths seeking advancement in the highly competitive ranks of the elite, in vicious games watched over by graduates like idle gods, gods who are not averse to tipping the scales now and again in a supposedly impartial test of student capabilities. Here, he must learn to see Golds as more than a monolithic entity to be hated, even as he learns how they turn their own kind into tools of ambition. By the end, Darrow has become someone he almost doesn't recognize, finding new and unexpected reasons to fight a system so thoroughly corrupt that even Golds live in fear of their own kind. The story starts quickly and maintains a good pace throughout, permeated with action and wonder and cold-blooded calculation. A tendency to use brutality to women for shock value cost it a full fifth star, but overall I found it an exhilarating and interesting read, if an often dark one. I'll be looking for Book 2 soon.
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