Throwback Thursday Review: Red Rising by Pierce Brown (2014)

I’m currently very busy, and making very slow progress on the novels I’m reading, so I figured I would fill the space by doing a Throwback Thursday review. Coming out in early 2014, Red Rising by Pierce Brown is a book that caught my attention early on – less due to hype, and more due to the staggering cover and presentation. When I did pick it up, it blew me away – the prose, the cohesion of the story, the way Brown pulled pieces from other notable works and mashed them together into a brilliant Frankenstein’s Monster of a book.

Simply put: A gods damned masterpiece. One of my new favorite books of all time.

Red Rising is the story of Darrow, a “red”, the lowest ranking caste in a color-coded society. He is essentially a slave/indentured servant, toiling away as a laborer with no real hope or aspirations. After the brutal death of his wife unfolds a chain of events that results in his rise to an artificial “gold” – the ruling caste – Darrow enrolls in a school/competition which will weed out the best golds – the ones fit for rule.

While this seeps of “been there, done that”, this book is so, so much more. One could say that it is a combination of Hunger Games, Ender’s Game, Harry Potter and Mark Lawrence’s Broken Empire series, all rolled into one. And by that, I mean the absolute best parts of all of those series, compiled into one near-perfect novel. And, in the way that all of those series/books grabbed me, held me and changed me, so Red Rising has shocked, awed and inspired me.

Myself and Pierce Brown, February 2015

The book is a first-person narrative of a young man, albeit not a child or preteen as some similar books contain, fighting his way through a faction-oriented brutal test of strength and cunning to prove dominance – one that is riddled with corruption, interference, politics, sabotage and a whole lot of violence. Let me get this out of the way: I’d seen that his book is considered YA, or that some people classified it as that. THIS IS NOT A GODDAMNED YOUNG ADULT BOOK. Having a younger protagonist does not automatically make a book YA. This novel is chock full of violence, adult themes and some profanity, and is certainly not something most in the YA category should probably be reading. It feels like a very, very “adult” book in a lot of ways, in a setting that is sometimes associated with the YA genre. This is a good thing, as it gives a new light to a setting that is often relegated to kids books.

Let me begin with the absolute #1 thing that grabbed me: Pierce Brown’s staggering prose. The closest thing I can compare it to is Mark Lawrence’s Broken Empire novels – which I have called my favorite prose of any author, ever, not just the SFF genre. It’s succinct, restrained in the use of commas, and packed with short sentences that jump off the page. Quotable, edgy and marvelous. I can’t say enough about Pierce’s use of words, his style, his gumption. Much like Jorg Ancrath in the Broken Empire books, this style of prose is just PERFECT for Darrow, who as the novel progresses gains a ton of similarities to Jorg. Perhaps part of the reason I loved this book so much. This prose is what I would want if I had any talent at all and wanted to write a novel. It’s inspiring to me.

The details are fantastic, from the focus on language and appearances to the effects of injuries that don’t just magically disappear. The way Brown makes the importance of these details apparent while keeping in line with his prose and story – not making it obvious he’s going “LOOK AT THIS DETAIL!” all the time.

The characters are superb – they grow through the novel, endure trials, act fairly realistically, have excellent emotions, dialogue, and shades of gray. There’s no black and white evil empire; there’s always a catch, always that next hitch, the next twist to keep you on your toes. Every time I thought Pierce was heading down a familiar road, he took a sharp left turn away from it. Aside from the protagonist, there was no feeling of plot armor, no characters who were impervious to either death, maiming, or of turning on someone. Brown captures the fear, anger, lust, anguish and excitement of every situation brilliantly.

Very rarely do I come across a book that I find nigh-on impossible to put down, almost physically difficult to cease the consumption of. This rivals any of the best books I’ve read in that category. I sincerely regret that the next book will not be out until next year, as I’m desperate for more. More of Darrow, more of the golds politics, more of that glorious prose.

As a side note: Tim Gerard Reynolds is SPECTACULAR doing the narrating this audiobook – a signature performance that I would put up against ANY audiobook I’ve listened to thus far. Just a marvelous piece of reading on his part.

Rating: 5 / 5

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