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Red Rising by Pierce Brown
Cover Artist: Sail, uselessarm.com
Review by Drew Bittner
Del Rey Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780345539786
Date: 28 January 2014 List Price $25.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

Darrow is a Helldiver, one of the rare few who manage the drills that mine precious helium-3 for the Mars terraforming effort. He is also a Red, one of the lowest of the Colored castes of humanity; he will lead a hard, short life toiling in the depths of the red planet, while the ruling Golds and other Colors await the habitability of Mars.

Then one day, Darrow realizes his entire life--that of all Reds everywhere--has been built upon a cruel lie, one that has cost him dearly. And he will not rest until he gets justice.

This is the set up for Red Rising by Pierce Brown, a bold and wildly imaginative tale of humanity's future on Mars and beyond. The Reds exist in perpetual poverty, deep underground, where the drilling teams compete for the Laurel: a prize that assures the winning community (named for Greek letters) ample food and medicine. The others are left to scrounge what they can, living on the verge of starvation.

Although deeply cynical already at the ripe old age of 16, Darrow never suspected the depths of betrayal upon which Society is built. He is cheated of what's rightfully his, and when his lovely firebrand wife Eo shows him something beautiful, they are both punished severely for it. This unleashes the rage Darrow has kept banked for years, at a moment when he is given a means to express that rage and bring down his enemies.

If a risky operation succeeds, he'll be able to impersonate a Gold and enter their Institute, to train and rise in the ranks until he is at the very apex of Society's pyramid…and thus perfectly positioned to bring it all down.

Darrow cannot falter or fail in his mission, lest he destroy the revolution and condemn his fellow Reds (and the other subordinate Colors) to a perpetual slavery. He'll take terrible chances, extend trust perhaps unwisely and risk it all, for the dream of seeing humanity liberated from the cruel decadence of the Golds and their matriarch, Octavia au Lune.

Brown pens a marvelous tale, offering up a slaveboy hero whose rise to greatness begins here. He is Pip from Great Expectations writ large, a Manchurian Candidate waiting to make his great play. There are a number of parallels to other works in many media, but Brown's hero is singular, has a terrific voice and perspective of his own, and engages the reader’s heart and head both.

Some reviews draw comparisons with ancient Greece or Rome, and both of those are appropriate. They were stratified societies built upon the loyalty of their people. However, that misses what Brown has also achieved here. Red Rising is just as much a condemnation of the creeping stratification of life in the United States, with decreasing social mobility and opportunity, even as those above demand loyalty and obedience but give nothing in return. It is easy to see the tendencies of today unfold into the corporatist/plutocratic nightmare that is the Society in which Darrow lives. Brown stakes a claim to that which science fiction does so well: provoke thought about where our world is going and what social movements could mean if taken to their furthest extreme.

As the start of an impressive saga, Red Rising is a powerhouse debut from a writer SF fans will want to watch.

Recommended.

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