The Earth is dying. Sixteen year old Darrow is a Red, one of the miners who lives beneath the surface of Mars hunting for precious resources needed as part of humanity’s effort to terraform Mars. Red is the lowest caste in a color-coded society where the Golds are the godlike rulers of all. Under the Golds’ watch, generations of Reds have never seen the sky nor felt green grass beneath their feet. The life of a Red is so short and harsh that they marry as teenagers. Such a lifestyle is only bearable because the Reds believe that they are pioneers, that they are humanity’s only hope for survival. But, it’s all a lie. When Darrow is recruited by a resistance group, the Sons of Ares, he ascends to the surface of Mars for the first time and sees for himself just how huge a lie it is. Darrow is tasked with infiltrating the Golds to fight for his people’s freedom.
Red Rising has been compared to books like The Hunger Games, Ender’s Game, and Lord of the Flies. There is truth to these comparisons. Red Rising is a dystopian sci-fi novel with a strong, intelligent teenage lead who is in a fight to the death with both his peers and the government. However, Red Rising is definitely more mature in terms of content; Darrow’s experiences are often violent and the language is quite imaginative, to say the least. For these reasons, Red Rising is usually catalogued in the Adult Fiction section. However, older teens will definitely enjoy this book. It’s a more in-depth and grown up version of a lot of popular teen science fiction they are already reading, and much of the more heinous violence within the story is non-explicit.
On a personal level, as someone who doesn’t usually like dystopian fiction, it took me a while to become fully engaged with Red Rising. What finally caught my attention was the strategizing and the total physicality of Darrow’s experience infiltrating the Gold command school. Even more interesting were the interpersonal relationships. Darrow has to live and fight with the very people who took everything from him and he has to beat them at their own game. But, in turn, the Golds that become Darrow’s allies and friends are humanized. They’re no longer part of a faceless society that condemned the Reds to a harsh life underground. It’s a fascinating dynamic, especially how Darrow is able to inspire loyalty in these people. I’m definitely excited to read book two, Golden Son, and the final installment of the trilogy, Morning Star, when it’s released in early 2016.