Have you ever gone to see a movie with friends that was reviewed well, but when you guys showed up and sat through it, you realized something was wrong? And instead of leaving you guys figured, “Hey, instead of walking out and asking for a refund (because there’s nothing legitimately wrong here) why don’t we just stick around and play critic, making fun of this mess instead?”
Ladies and gentlemen, those were my feelings when I picked up Red Rising by Pierce Brown, the first installment in the Red Rising Trilogy. Here’s its description from goodreads.com:
The Earth is dying. Darrow is a Red, a miner in the interior of Mars. His mission is to extract enough precious elements to one day tame the surface of the planet and allow humans to live on it. The Reds are humanity’s last hope.
Or so it appears, until the day Darrow discovers it’s all a lie. That Mars has been habitable – and inhabited – for generations, by a class of people calling themselves the Golds. A class of people who look down on Darrow and his fellows as slave labour, to be exploited and worked to death without a second thought.
Until the day that Darrow, with the help of a mysterious group of rebels, disguises himself as a Gold and infiltrates their command school, intent on taking down his oppressors from the inside. But the command school is a battlefield – and Darrow isn’t the only student with an agenda.
(I mean…it LOOKS promising, right?)
I read this entire book on my iPhone (by choice, funny enough) and it wasn’t long before this book started evoking a whole bunch of feelings (that’s “feels” for you high-schoolers who live on reddit) in my heart. But the feels weren’t the ones the author intended: stuff like compassion for the protagonists, anger at the villains, and satisfaction when the hero triumphed in brutal, bloody, sociopathic glory.
No. What I felt instead was frustration peppered with feelings of betrayal. I was so pissed that I would highlight sentences that were (nonsense) as well as write sarcastic notes in the e-book version I was reading, making fun of what the author was doing as well as the characters themselves, many of which I had a problem with.
(This is Darrow and I’d punch him in the face if he didn’t make Charles Manson seem like a gentle pussycat. And if he wasn’t a fictional character.)
It was at the point where I was in my iPhone’s notes app and was lambasting Red Rising that I realized a book report was in order. I was a literature major in college because I love reading, but when I was in school I absolutely HATED doing lit papers. Hated them. I used to procrastinate so badly that I’d break out in a rash from all the stress.
Not really. I did them all on time and can’t remember the last time I had a rash. But I still hated doing lit reports because I had to be all formal and stuff; whenever I tried to inject a little “flair” or “razzle dazzle” I’d get penalized for expressing myself.
But you’re in MY HOUSE now and we do book reports by MY RULES. Starting with this pic of Debbie Gallagher from Showtime’s Shameless with a rash on her arm.
(Totally relevant to this post. I’m glad it’s here.)
I’ll air my grievances about this book in a second, because first I should give a little background on the author. Here’s the bio from the back flap:
PIERCE BROWN spent his childhood building forts and setting traps for cousins in the woods of six states and deserts of two. [Meaning what, exactly? Were his cousins raccoons? Rabbits, maybe?] Graduating college in 2010, [Because it would be crass if they came out and said, “You know the person who wrote this brilliant book? Well, he was 22 in 2010 meaning he was about 26 when this hit the shelves. WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH YOUR LIFE, YOU FREAKIN’ LOSER?”] he fancied the idea of continuing his studies at Hogwarts. [Huh? This dude was eyeing Grad School and seriously thought HOGWARTS was an option? I’ll let you add in a snarky joke of your own here; you don’t need my help] Unfortunately he doesn’t have a magical bone in his body [or an original one. More on that later]. So while trying to make it as a writer, he worked as a manger of social media at a tech startup company, [They hired the guy applying to Hogwarts at 22 to oversee all their social media? WHAT THE ACTUAL $%&@, MAN?] toiled as a peon on the Disney lot at ABC studios, [So…when he uses “peon” here is he referring to the “Spanish-American day laborer / unskilled farm worker” definition or the “someone of low-rank in southeast Asia” definition? I’m pretty sure both are offensive, and that Disney / ABC can easily get this book.] did his time as an NBC page, [yes, yes “did his time.” I’m sure the people in prison doing hard time are like, “think of it this way, Carlos: there’s very little difference between this and working at NBC!”] and gave sleep deprivation a new meaning during his stint as an aide on a U.S. senate campaign. [He’s complaining about sleep deprivation? We here in Staten Island work 60 hour weeks standing on our head; you’re considered a Mary if you do any less.) Now he lives in Los Angeles, [perfect weather, open-minded culture and affordable rent? Of course the Mary lives there! Freakin’ Mary…) where he scribbles tales of spaceships, [in Red Rising] wizards, [not in Red Rising] ghouls, [also not in Red Rising] and most things old or bizarre. [Again, meaning what, exactly? Walk into your Barnes and Noble section and be like, “Hello. Can you direct me to your Most Things Old or Bizarre section?” And see what that gets you. Send your answers here: email@example.com]
(And the Mary’s good-looking too. In my hometown, if you don’t look at least HALF bulldog, you might as well throw on a pair of high heels and a mini-skirt.)
So while Pierce Brown’s resume is a bit *ahem* scatter-brained and chaotic, he’s a smart dude. Really. You can read a short article buzzfeed did on him here, but even if you don’t, just by reading a few chapters of his book you can tell he’s intelligent. There’s also the fact that he wrote the screenplay for his novel and sold it to Universal for a big check. So yeah. He’s a smart dude.
While I’m saying nice things about him, I might as well say some nice things about Red Rising and just get them out of the way, because there’s so few of them.
Let’s do this:
-It’s well written from a technical standpoint.
-Despite the story taking place on a large scale, I was able to follow it.
-Some of the technology is cool. Take this from p 355: I steal Apollo’s recoilArmor. The golden plate coils around my limbs like liquid. Or this from p. 360: He cuts open my thigh with his own. The armor closes around the wound, compressing it and administering painkillers.
That’s it. All done.
(The frustration…it’s already coming on strong.)
So now let’s spend the other half of this post airing my frustrations with this book. Starting with:
This is a Hunger Games knockoff, and a blatant, unabashed one at that.
We all know the deal here. Hunger Games was a popular book / film franchise and of course a bunch of knockoffs followed. No different from Twilight before it, and Harry Potter before that.
Whatever. I don’t care. If people like something, why not give the people more of it?
Furthermore, I actually prefer series like Maze Runner and Divergent to the Hunger Games, so I’m not against the idea of a spin on something popular.
(I’ve even got a signed copy of INSURGENT by Veronica Roth.)
Unfortunately, originality was not on the to-do list with Red Rising. It’s a cobbling of ideas from Harry Potter, Ender’s Game, and Hunger Games, which Pierce Brown soaked in Game of Thrones-level violence and then coated it with a veneer of Roman history. On paper this sounds like it could work, but it just…doesn’t. It winds up being a patchwork quilt of ideas with almost no originality to make it worthwhile.
But Hunger Games is definitely its strongest influence. On Mars, Darrow and his teammates compete in a broadcasted game that’s supervised by Proctors and was made by Drafters, and before this there was a homosexual named Dancer who used futuristic surgery to transform Darrow into a Gold worthy of competing.
(Like Cinna from Hunger Games!)
Darrow tells us he is 16, but he talks, acts, thinks, and lives like a 40 year old man.
This was something I had the biggest problem with. The story opens up and he’s a miner on Mars (classified as a Red) who’s married (yes, married) to a girl named Eo. She dies, thus creating motivation in the form of revenge for Darrow.
Fine. If people get married young in this world, I’ll allow it, because arranged marriages happen in real life. But what happens as you get further into the book is that we learn that not only does Darrow lack formal education but he’s a teen day laborer…who happens to speak like Shakespeare and espouse philosophy like Aristotle.
Again…he’s 16. Let’s cut to two quick examples, both from Darrow:
I answer him in a way he will understand. “Fitchner. Do not play me for a fool with vague, annoying references to duplicity. My army is mine, won in heart and body and soul. They can no more betray me at this point than I can betray them. We are something you have not seen before. So stop.” (p.334)
And my favorite:
Their faces are painted white with bird dung and gray clay, so we’ve the look the look of spectral winter beasts as breath billows from our grinning maws. (p. 286)
WHO TALKS LIKE THIS? Remember, this is a sixteen-year-old who’s never seen the inside of the classroom, and probably never read a book.
(It’s just not realistic, people!)
I really believe that when Pierce Brown wrote this, Darrow was a lot older, but the publisher was probably like, “Pierce, my boy! You gotta make Darrow a kid if you’re copying Hunger Games! An adult market won’t read this!”
Okay, so I don’t know if that conversation happened, but I firmly believe that Darrow started off old and Brown changed him to sixteen, for the above reasons and also because…
The book is super violent for the sake of being super violent.
This is absolutely not a children’s book, sixteen-year-old narrator or not. The characters are always talking about castrating someone or popping their balls. Rape is never shown in graphic detail but it’s implied—constantly. There’s a scene where someone is casually sawing their arm off. Many others where bones are snapped and kneecaps are shattered. Another where Darrow holds onto someone’s hand and beats his arm with his fist until breaks (p.359). Darrow becomes obsessed with mass murder in a short amount of time.
It’s a total bloodbath, fitting in with the Roman motif the author has going. My problem is that I don’t know why it’s there, other than for shock value.
See, Darrow’s whole motivation for this mess is to avenge his wife, which starts out as pretty noble, but what happens is he just descends into full blown SOCIOPATHY with an occasional “Uh, yeah, I’m doing this for my martyred wife. I think?” But…his bloodlust is so damn intense that I can’t buy it. The same goes for the love between Eo and Darrow, and how can I? Their marriage ended when they were sixteen. Kids! At least with Katniss and Prim they were sisters their whole lives, and Prim truly was helpless.
(Coincidentally Prim would be prime age for rape / marriage in Red Rising. But more likely rape.)
I’ll end with the aspect of Red Rising that disturbed me the most. I’m talking about…
The Fetishizing of Castration, Balls, and the Pee-pees.
South Park writers think George RR Martin is obsessed with wieners? That’s nothing compared to this guy. So hold your breath. Make a wish. And count to three:
(Come with me / And you’ll be / In a world of)
(Pure imagination / Take a look / And you’ll see / Into your imagination)
(We’ll begin / With a spin / Traveling in)
(The world of my creation / What we’ll see / Will defy / Explanation)
(If you want to view paradise / Simply look around and view it / Anything you want to, do it)
(Wanta change the world? / There’s nothing / To it)
(There is no / Life I know / To compare with)
(Pure imagination / Living there / You’ll be free / If you truly wish to be)
This book has been well-received by critics and the public, and people are calling Pierce Brown the next big voice in fiction (because they ran out of people to call the next J. K. Rowling) but is Red Rising worth reading? I’m not a Hunger Games fan, but would I recommend it if you are?
No. See, I average a book a week and rate them on a scale of 1-5 on shelfari. Since I read so much I think about a book’s score as I go through it, and the number goes up and down as I progress. This book deserves a 4/5 (a great score!) because of its superb writing and a story gripping enough for me to finish, but it loses a star because of its blatant Hunger Games rip off status, meaning it’s only a 3/5.
(Don’t object. You know I’m right.)
What you should do is keep an eye on Pierce Brown, because he’s definitely got some skills, and he’s already in the spotlight with his recent success. I won’t read the next two books in the series, but I’m absolutely open to reading whatever he does after this.
The book I recommend instead of this is Ready Player One by Ernest Kline. It’s a Willy Wonka meets the Matrix plotline bursting with 1980s references, and told by 19 year old Wade Watts who actually thinks and acts his age. (What a world!) It’s also got an excellent romantic subplot, one that really makes you root for the characters to get together, unlike Red Rising where Darrow and Mustang’s relationship seems forced and because Darrow is borderline cannibal you worry that any female brave enough to befriend him must have a death wish.
(So get my recommendation…now.)
That’s all for today. Next post will be up on May 2nd and in case you ever forget, be sure to check out the handy “Post Schedule” tab up at the top.
As always be sure to subscribe to this blog by email if you haven’t already, share the post with anyone who might be interested, and of course, leave a comment below sharing your thoughts…especially if you’ve read this book.
See you next time,
J. F. Seegitz
P.S. Another excellent review of this book can be found here.