Almost 20 years of reviewing genre fiction has transformed me into a skeptic. Every time I read a press release or receive an email touting the next big blockbuster release, eye rolling inevitably ensues. I’ve reviewed hundreds of novels that have been publicized as instant classics and compared to iconic works of literature, only to be bitterly disappointed again and again.
Sadly, very few novels live up to the hype—but I’m here to tell you that Pierce Brown’s debut novel, Red Rising, a dystopian science fiction tale set on a terraformed Mars, actually exceeds its prepublication praise. It will be one of the most immersive and memorable books you’ll read this year. And if that stamp of approval isn’t enough, here are five more reasons to seek out and read this stellar novel, hitting shelves today:
1. Comparison to The Hunger Games don’t do it justice. If it’s a newly released dystopian novel, chances are good it’s going to be compared to Suzanne Collins’ best-selling trilogy—and Red Rising has been, in numerous reviews. But in my opinion it exceeds The Hunger Games across the board: The backstory is richer and deeper. The hero, Darrow, is far more complex than Katniss Everdeen. And, yes, Red Rising—the first in a projected trilogy—would make a better movie than The Hunger Games. This doesn’t detract from the fact that Collins’ novels are extraordinarily entertaining and thematically profound. All I’m saying is I like Red Rising better.
2. The potential audience for it is virtually limitless. Since the protagonist is a 16-year-old miner (in a lower caste, known as Reds, that lives underground), it’s a no-brainer that this will sell well with young adult readers who gravitate toward dystopian epics. But the storyline has a decidedly literary undertone to it—Roman mythology references abound, and there’s even a subtle reference to Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game. But, above all else, it’s a heart-wrenching love story. An addictively readable fusion of Lord of the Flies, Machiavelli’s The Prince, Ender’s Game, and Brave New World, this novel transcends genre categorization and will resonate with readers regardless of age, gender, or genre predilection.
3. The depth of characterization is incredibly impressive. Darrow is a simply unforgettable hero—a lowly Red who has seen his young wife Eo murdered and his entire family essentially enslaved, he gets the opportunity to continue his wife’s dream to free his people when a group of rebels saves him from death and essentially rebuilds him into the form of a Gold, those god-like humans who rule the Society. But I enjoyed other, supporting characters just as much as Darrow, if not more: Mustang, the brilliant female Gold whom Darrow befriends when he enters the Gold’s elite academy; Sevro, the little Gold who barely makes it into the academy and survives in the unlikeliest of ways; Pax; Titus; the list goes on…
4. It’s not just entertaining, it’s brutally enlightening. As Darrow enters into the cutthroat culture of the Golds, he is relearning how to live in a world powered by manipulation, ruthlessness, and extreme violence. Woven into the storyline are deeply philosophical morsels that add another layer to the narrative tapestry. Here’s one of my favorite lines: “Look into yourself, Darrow, and you’ll realize that you are a good man who will have to do bad things.” Time and time again, Darrow is forced to question himself, his purpose in life, and what it really means to be human. Try putting this book down once you begin reading it. I dare you!
5. It’s the perfect blend of commercial fiction and literary genre fiction. Because of the tightly plotted, action-packed storyline, brilliantly realized and identifiable characters, and breakneck pacing, this debut is all but guaranteed to be a commercial success—but there is a real thematic depth and artistic beauty to this novel that can’t be ignored. When you read Red Rising, you’ll be more than entertained, you’ll be changed.
Will you be reading Red Rising?