You know with utmost certainty who you are, how the world works, and what social class you belong to. Most things seem to make sense as you know what your reason to live is, whether it’s just seeking pleasure or dedicating your life to the greater good. If we look at who exactly runs things on this planet, we’ll end up following a long chain of command that takes us to the elite class; the incredibly wealthy businessmen and politicians who have enough influence to say what happens and what doesn’t.
We all have different ideas about what it is they do in their Illuminati-like gatherings (whether or not they wear those creepy robes, for example) and how much power they really have over the world; but we can only guess and infer, without having any real ideas about it. Well, imagine for a second that one day you wake up, and realize that every single moment of your existence has been nothing but a lie concocted by that ruling class to keep you down and obedient, like a dog on a leash. Imagine that because of your social class, you’ve been relegated to living in the worst parts of the world without even knowing it, ignorant of how good life can really be. Well, perhaps you don’t have to, because that’s exactly what happens to a man named Darrow in Pierce Brown’s Red Rising trilogy.
Book 1: Red Rising
A New Life on Mars
Pierce Brown is a new author on the scene, and this is the book that started it all for him and launched his career into stardom. Everything begins as we follow the afore-mentioned Darrow, who is part of the Red caste, the lowest in this futuristic society. Day in and day out, he and his fellow Reds shed blood and sweat working away to make the surface of Mars livable for future generations. He knows that though he may die and be forgotten, his children and the ones that follow will have a good world to live in.
This is the first quarter of the book, and it’s pretty much dedicated to acquainting us with Darrow and the kind of life he was born into. Pierce uses this occasion to give us a lot of information about that society from Darrow’s perspective, highlighting its many peculiarities and contrasting them, sometimes automatically, to modern times. It’s a very interesting part of the book, however some people might find all the detailed world-building to be a bit slow in some places… which in the end isn’t a big deal, considering the scope of the adventure we’re about to be taken on.
The Unforgivable Deception
Once we’ve come to know Darrow, his routine, beliefs and people that surround him, we get into the second part of the book where things begin to heat up and get really juicy. Relatively quickly, Darrow makes a shocking discovery: humanity has reached the surface of Mars ages ago and has been living in relative comfort and luxury. It was all a plot concocted by those from the world above to keep the Reds underground and in ignorance, where they have always been. The author does a remarkable job at capturing the brutality of such a world, often going into the details about the kinds of punitive measures taken in that society. The coldness with which it’s all described lends an air of authenticity to the cruel and unforgiving violence of that world.
Needless to say, Darrow isn’t all too happy about this kind of news, and so he sets out to see what’s really out there. The story picks up the pace and introduces us to the new world above, one where considerable technological advances have taken places. We almost feel like we’re transported to a kind of fantasy realm where anything is possible thanks to our scientific endeavors. The transition is a bit sudden from one world to the next and can even get a bit confusing at times, but you start to get the hang of it about halfway through and settle into the new direction the story takes.
Without giving much away, Darrow decides he needs to infiltrate the renowned Institute and become part of the elite that make all the decisions in this world, and once the story embarks on that course of action it never looks back for a second. All bets are off are Brown focuses purely on moving the story forward with a few very good twists along the way. The ending is quite good in its own right, answering a few questions but opening up many more to make room for the next entry in the series… so in short, a good finale for a very entertaining and solid first book in a trilogy.
Book 2: Golden Son
The Unavoidable Revolution
The second book in the trilogy takes off pretty much where the first one left off, so for those who haven’t read it yet, I won’t give away too many details that would ruin your experience. Suffice to say, Darrow has reached his goal of infiltrating the elite society, who call themselves the Golds. Many sacrifices were made to get him to where he is, and that’s why he must keep on going until the end; the revolution is coming, and Darrow will be its leader.
Free from the burden of having to construct an entire cast of characters and the world they inhabit, Brown jumps right back into the action with the second novel and moves it along at a rather quick pace, much faster than what you’d expect from a middle book in a series. There’s a whole lot of action going on this time around, with the imminent rebellion of the Reds in parallel with Darrow trying to navigate the treacherous world of the Golds, finding powerful friends and foes alike.
About Love, Justice and Imperfection
It’s particularly interesting to get an-depth inside glimpse at the people we’ve been up against and vilifying this entire time, seeing what they’re really made of inside. I won’t spoil you about what it is exactly that we get to see, but I will say that it’s going to make you think quite a bit about who we consider our enemies in life and why. As a matter of fact, Darrow finds himself locked in a strenuous conflict with his own sense of morality and justice, seeking a way for a peaceful rebirth of the world, rather than the genocidal extermination of a whole caste.
Watching Darrow walk the dangerously-narrow line between the idealistic principles of love and justice and his primal desires of bloody revenge is pretty thrilling in itself, having us constantly wonder which side he’ll end up falling on in the end. If you think it’s all set in stone and he’ll end up following his good nature, then I’d have to stress that this is the kind of book where an unhappy ending is all too real of a possibility and you never really know if any given character will make it until the end.
One aspect of the book that jumped out at me where the characterizations. Because we get to see everything in first-person from Darrow’s perspective we get to witness first-hand his cunning intelligence and complex personality. We get to see all the conflicting emotions raging inside of him, all the failures that are haunting him throughout his life. We really get a sense for how fallible and human he is, how close he always walks to the precipice. We feel his tremendous struggle with trust, how he must careful decisions as to who his friends and foes are. We become quite close with him, which in turn makes the characterization for other people seem a bit less ambitious, but I feel that’s a small flaw you’ll find in every first-person narration. With that being said, many of the villains are quite complex in their own rights and make for surprising enemies… especially since most of the time, you don’t really know who the bad guys are until it’s too late.
All in all, Golden Son is a great second book in the trilogy and gives us the kind of action we’d expect from the last book in the series. It’s very fast-paced with a lot of liveliness, taking the plot once again into captivating and unexpected directions. It ends on a pretty brutal cliffhanger, but that’s only to be expected from the second book in a trilogy.
Book 3: Morning Star
And so we come at last to the final chapter in the series, the one where everything comes to an end and all accounts are settled permanently. If you’ve read this far then I assume you don’t mind a few small spoilers here and there, but once again I’ll try to keep those to a minimum; I believe this is one adventure that can be completely enjoyed even if you do know something about it.
The War to End it All
Anyhow, we are once again taking off where the previous book left us, with Darrow having climbed up the ranks of the Golds. But they were never intent on leaving him alone; they want him to obey, they’ve killed his wife and enslaved his people. Their fear him, hate him, and they are ready to bring the war to him. On his end, Darrow has somehow survived all the deadly gauntlets and trials thrown at him by the elite world, and stands ready to finally unleash the promised revolution that will tear down that cruel society and pave the way for a new one. Of course, the road to freedom isn’t exactly without its obstacles, with many powerful enemies banding together to stop the Reds. Darrow must find a way to convince them to climb out of the darkness into the light and break the shackles of slavery that have been weighing them down for generations. There will be no peace or surrender; only war.
A Balance of Story and Action
Once again, Brown’s magnificent world comes populated with a remarkable cast of characters, all of them having powerful personalities in their own ways. Some villains are detestable to the core, while others command respect. Some of the good guys make you wish they were on the other side, while others give you hope for a triumph. They all have something to say, drives, desires, and dreams. There are a few people you can really root for and become attached to, celebrating their victories or wallowing in the suffering of their defeats. But of course, Darrow is the one who really steals the show, an extremely dynamic character who always lets his humanity shine through, making mistakes, learning, loving, struggling, and hoping. You always see him grow in one way or another, and it’s simply astonishing when you take the time to look at how much he has changed since the first book while still retaining the essence that makes him the Darrow we’ve come to love.
The last novel in the series, Morning Star is chock-full of explosive action and frantic, break-neck speed battles. There are space wars, boarding sequences, duels, ambushes, and basically a whole lot of hyper-violence that the series has come to be known for. I would even say that Brown cranks it up a notch or two in some scenes, leaving some very strong impressions that make you keep your guard up.
While the violence certainly plays a role in the book, it’s only a part of the whole experience. Brown takes the opportunity to explore some philosophical concepts, such as the difference between terrorism and freedom fighting, how both sides of a war are composed of mostly decent people, as well our different ideas of morality, justice and leadership. Brown gives us a lot to think about, I’d say enough to keep you busy for a little while after finishing the story.
A Finale for the Ages
Now, as for the ending, in my opinion Brown avoided all the classic pitfalls and made something resembling absolute perfection. We see at what cost considerable progress can come, and all the plot lines are brought to their rightful and satisfying endings. All fates are sealed, and very little is left to the imagination. It’s the kind of finale that leaves you wanting for nothing or anything more to wonder about. But at the same time, Brown gave it just enough openness to leave the possibility for more stories set in that universe, perhaps from the perspective of entirely different characters.
To conclude, the Red Rising trilogy is definitely worthy of all the commotion it has raised since its publishing. It brings us into a unique, interesting and carefully-crafted world populated by a myriad of captivating and complex characters, with a vast and expansive plot full of action, philosophy and emotions. It’s a series unlike any other out there and gives the kind of satisfying and complete experience very few trilogies manage to achieve. If dystopian science-fiction is your cup of tea, then this is a trilogy you can’t afford to pass out on.