Friday, July 29, 2016

Seeing Red (Well... Reading It)

Since it was first published in 2014, I'd come upon several critics enthusiastically recommending the novel Red Rising, by Pierce Brown. Knowing that it was the first book of a trilogy, and being currently mired in more unfinished series than I can keep straight, I filed that praise away. But when the series was completed this year, I decided it was time to take a look. I probably should have done a bit more research into exactly what the book (and series) was about, because I found myself recoiling from a sense of "been there, done that" by the end of the first chapter.

Set in the future on the planet Mars, Red Rising depicts a rigidly class-divided society in which the lowborn are made to serve the elite. It follows a young man named Darrow as he tries to rise above his station and potentially lead a revolt against the system. In short, this is The Hunger Games, Silo, Divergent -- or, in other ways, Ender's Game or Lord of the Flies. For a story about revolution, there's little here that's revolutionary.

That said, in the same amount of time it took me to conclude that I'd read "this story" before, I also concluded that Pierce Brown was a bit better at writing it than the versions I'd read (or what I would infer from their movie adaptations). Darrow's origin story is largely interchangeable with Katniss Everdeen or Beatrice Prior, but the character felt like less of a do-gooding, destined-for-greatness cipher to me than the protagonists of most dystopian fiction. Through the occasionally clever turn of phrase, or the slight mixing up of recognizable plot elements, Brown managed to keep me from putting the book down.

I suppose it's because society feels so hopelessly class divided that stories like this keep getting remixed. (Someone more well-read than I could probably go back and track how long the trend has been going, and whether it has intensified of late.) So I credit Pierce Brown for striking a nerve, mining a vein that still has ore in it, or whatever metaphor you'd choose. But the fact remains that all throughout the book, I was alternately "intrigued and involved by his writing," and "exasperated by regurgitated plot elements."

But I did finish the book.

Whether I go on to read the next two, however, remains to be seen. With a "to read" stack that feels a mile high, perhaps not. But if this particular sub-genre is your thing, I'd have to say that this felt like a worthy entry I'd probably recommend. I'd call it a B.... maybe? Let me put it this way: if Pierce Brown isn't a one-hit wonder, if he goes on to publish some other book or series, then I'll probably investigate it. Until then, I'll be seeking greener pastures. (Or is that pages?)

1 comment:

The Down East Genealogist said...

I've read the entire trilogy, and while yes, it's easy to see elements in common with The Hunger Games or any of the other books/series you mentioned, I felt that the Red Rising trilogy did it much better than either the Hunger Games trilogy or Divergent. (I haven't yet read Silo so I can't make that comparison.)

I found the plot and the level of writing in the Red Rising books to be way above that of the Hunger Games series (Catching Fire was little more than a rehash of the first book), and Darrow a much more complicated, interesting, and mature protagonist than Katniss. And IMO, Divergent fell well below the level of Hunger Games; the plot was so full of holes and the protagonist so shallow that I couldn't bring myself to read beyond the first book. If I had to rate the three series, I'd give Red Rising an A-, Hunger Games maybe a B-, and Divergent a C- at best.

Now, possibly my evaluations are influenced by the fact that, with the exception of Morning Star (Red Rising III), I consumed the above-mentioned books/series as audiobooks rather than in print, and the narration of Hunger Games and Divergent felt very "young adult", in contrast to a more mature tone in Red Rising. So I might be a bit biased by that. That said, I did enjoy Morning Star in print (the audiobook wasn't out yet and I really wanted to finish the trilogy) as much as Red Rising and Golden Son in audio.

Ender's Game (which I have both read and listened to) does stand up well against Red Rising, but Red Rising's theme is enough different that I didn't see the common plot elements as "regurgitated" so much as "conscious similarities" (if that makes any sense).

I'd definitely recommend reading the rest of the Red Rising Trilogy.

(Major Rakal)