Having reached the half-way point of Pierce Brown’s Red Rising, I have to say I’m not sure what all the fuss is about. The book has been on the several critics’ ‘must read’ lists and has also fared well with readers on Goodreads and Amazon after it was published 12 months ago.
The building blocks of the story sound familiar: a teenage protagonist, a dystopian future society with a ruling class and a downtrodden worker class, plenty of suffering, violence and death. The book clearly caters to the same audience that made bestsellers out of The Hunger Games, Divergent, Wool and Maze Runner series. On the surface, even Harry Potter is built around the same standard Bildungsroman novel structure. With stories as derivative as these, there is not much that the writer can offer in terms of originality, so all one can hope for are appealing characters and fast-paced action, delivered through elegant writing. This is exactly what the Harry Potter books have in superabundance and therefore distinguishes them from all the other pretenders. Sadly, none of these characteristics exist at any level of significance in Pierce Brown’s book.
I must credit Mr. Brown for trying to create a distinct dialect of English for a Mars-based futuristic society, but with the entire story being told in the first person by the protagonist Darrow, it makes for very difficult reading. Strike one for elegant writing.
When it comes to the characters, of course it is normal to have a one or two irritating characters for the protagonist to deal with…who usually become staunch allies later on in the books. Think of Hermione in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone or much further back to The White Mountains, a wonderful dystopian YA novel from 1967 (before the term Young Adult existed) where thirteen-year-old Will is forced to go on the run with his hated cousin Henry – in both cases, the irritating companion soon becomes a trusted companion. In Red Rising however, all of Darrow’s allies are focused on using him as a tool to overthrow the ruling class Golds, so friendship and likeability really don’t enter the equation. Strike two for appealing characters.
And as for pace, there is indeed a lot happening, but mostly it just seems tedious rather than breathless. For example, there are pages devoted to the excruciating physical modifications Darrow must undergo in order to infiltrate the Gold society. After a while, I just couldn’t be bothered and felt like skipping paragraphs so I could get to the part where he actually does some infiltrating. Strike three for fast-paced action.
So, I am just going to grind through this book somehow and will not bother to read the sequel Golden Son which has just been released. I am facing similar issues trying to read the much touted Rick Yancey YA novel The 5th Wave. With both these books jumping on to the Hollywood production line, one hopes that the movie rises above the limitations of the books, much as Lionsgate has done with The Hunger Games franchise.