Book Review- Red Rising by Pierce Brown

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I purchased this book for my own pleasure, with no expectation of a review


‘Arum Nostrum Non Est Aurum Vulgi: Our gold is not common gold.’

~ Alchemist saying


Brown’s Red Rising is a thrill ride from start to finish! We bear witness to a series of amazing, brutal alchemic transformations that create a warrior like no other.


Darrow is a Red Helldiver from Lykos, Mars, a mining colony devoted to mining helium-3 to aid in terraforming the planet. Reds are considered the lowest of Colours in a society where people have been genetically crafted to fit certain positions, from menial labourers to leaders. Hair colour, eye colour, dispositions- it’s all been shaped through years of eugenics and genetic manipulation. If Reds are the lowest, Golds rank the highest.


Darrow’s first Calcination comes when his wife is executed. It’s a harsh loss that pushes him past a breaking point, past the point of his tolerance and acceptance of the way things are. He defies the authorities and steals away his wife’s body in order to bury her. For this, he earns his own execution.


Darrow is saved by a group known as the Sons of Ares, who stand against the status quo. They’ve seen qualities in Darrow that make him an ideal tool, if they can shape him properly. His Dissolution comes in accepting the charge they place upon him.


Darrow is taken to a Carver to be reshaped. His time with Mickey turns him physically from a Red to a Gold. This is his Separation, where he learns to separate Red from Gold. They are preparing Darrow for a daunting mission- to become the highest of the high, the Peerless Scarred. From this place, he will be a wolf in the fold when inevitable rebellion comes.


The Passage is Darrow’s Fermentation, the beginning of his ‘dark night of the soul’, and it continues through battle training. Limits and virtues are put to the test. A mild Distillation and Coagulation occur when Darrow takes the fight to his true enemies, surprising everyone.


Tempered in the fiery mines beneath Mars, Darrow’s heritage makes him stronger in mind and body than his fellow trainees. He combines ruthlessness with mercy. He understands what motivates people, and uses it to advantage, earning him a rare prize among Golds- true loyalty.


Darrow’s transformation has only begun. He will be the catalyst for a fierce Calcination that will reshape the very society itself. The question will be, is this society ready for a mental Helldiver that can weather the firestorm to come, plucking the valuable from the dross?


Fun stuff- Brown’s writing is masterful. He captures the feel of each social strata through colloquial dialogue and mannerisms without overwhelming the reader. The story is engaging from start to finish and the world-building is brilliant. Brown is an excellent biblioanthropologist!


Not so fun stuff- there is a good deal of violence. There are times when it seems like the Proctors would step in, but they don’t. Apparently rape and physical abuse of capives is acceptable. I both liked and hated this. I like the dark and gritty, the harsh and real, but I also want, well, a world where things are better than here. But all societies are complex, and don’t fit idealistic templates, nice as that might be.


Red Rising is a masterful first novel perfect for fans of the Divergent trilogy, and The Hunger Games. If you enjoy dystopic fiction with gritty reality, this is the book for you!

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