Darrow is a driller, a Red --- a member of the lowest class of humanity --- living below the surface of Mars toiling in hot tunnels, all for the greater good of human civilization. A displaced person of a conquered Earth, he is among the settlers mining the precious minerals that will be used to make the surface habitable for future generations. He’s always stretching the limits of what he can do, knowing he’s the best driller in his group and wanting to prove it. What he really wants, though, is to win the laurel and be able to provide more food for his family.
Just when Darrow thinks he has won the laurel, everything changes. His wife opens his eyes to another world --- a world he didn’t know existed and one he wishes he could instantly forget. When his wife is sentenced to death for showing him the surface world and the truth about class distinctions, his life shatters. Sentenced to death days after his wife’s public hanging, Darrow finds that death isn’t so easy to come by. Taken in by a rebel group, he becomes part of the revolution --- transforming into a Gold, the highest class of society on Mars, to infiltrate and bring down the system from the inside.
"[T]ime will disappear as soon as the first page is read, because once you start, you’re not going to put this book down until the end."
With his wife’s death as motivation, Darrow assimilates into Gold society, learning to live among the decadent and immoral people he didn’t know existed and couldn’t even imagine in his previous life. He is physically changed through surgery, learns a new language, and becomes, for all intents and purposes, a new person --- a person who must now win a game to find revenge for his wife and his family.
When their children are of age, the Golds enroll them in an institute where survival is more than just an academic term. In order to earn sought-after positions in society, the Golds fight their way through a game of life and death, all striving to be at the top. Darrow understands very little about the people and situation he’s been thrown into but quickly takes to the game, becoming one of the most conniving and fierce players the institute has ever seen. His unpredictable nature works for and against him, propelling him to an end he seeks but doesn’t necessarily want.
Darrow understands the game better than any of the other students and has much more at stake. Slightly unlikable and unreliable, he knows who he is at heart but also is aware that he needs to be a killer to survive. Darrow has no problem holding himself above the others, believing that what he’s doing is for a greater good. He is now a man with a purpose, even if he no longer recognizes himself. Being a Gold, he is dark, cold and mysterious to those around him.
This game that’s being played among the students, and the Gold society in general, is just brutal. You quickly understand the players and what they need to do to survive; even though some are thoroughly unlikable, you like them anyway because the situation is absolutely vile. Reading this book is like watching a fight to the death cage match. Pierce Brown’s Mars is a dark and unforgiving place where death is always close, especially for Reds like Darrow.
It happens, but I wish it wouldn’t: book comparisons. RED RISING, the first in a planned trilogy, is a mix of things: THE HUNGER GAMES, ENDER’S GAME and LORD OF THE FLIES. There’s a competition among the students, it takes place on Mars, and well, in the end, it is mass chaos --- students killing students all in the name of winning a game that can’t be won. What that means for the reader is that time will disappear as soon as the first page is read, because once you start, you’re not going to put this book down until the end.
Reviewed by Amy Gwiazdowski on January 30, 2014