by Pierce Brown
Whew! This is a gritty one, as YA novels go.
The premise will be a little familiar, especially if you've read The Hunger Games, Divergent, or even the classic Ender series. It's a terrible time for mankind, some unnamed distance into the future. We've burned the planet out and have had to colonise other places in the solar system. Following the obligatory civil war, which the reader takes to be not far distant from this present moment in time, humans stratified themselves to make survival possible (based on colours - so "Red" at the bottom, the menial worker class, "Gold" at the top). The strata system proving useful to those in overlordship, it was kept long after its necessity had passed.
The Reds grind their lives away underground on Mars, mining helium to enable the terraforming of the planet before it can accept colonists from Earth. The Golds drop by every now and then to remind their labour force, primarily through bloodshed, horror, and the ruthless weight of their domination, of just Who is Boss...there's a strong whiff of President Snow and Panem, here; only without the roses and the pretences at urbanity.
So. Now we have the oppressed, the oppressors, and the middle classes who facilitate the oppression. The Reds are getting a little tired of endless backbreaking labour, the lash of their masters' whips, and the general hopelessness of their people's condition...the time is ripe for a revolt.
It might sound as if I'm criticising this novel, in my comparisons to The Hunger Games, specifically, and Sci Fi Young Adult genre as a whole (Ender's Game is a classic example). In fact, I absolutely loved this book. It DOES compare to the Hunger Games, inevitably, not least because there is actually a war game in which the young people - in the form of recruits to an elite academy for the ruling classes - are placed into an engineered landscape and observed as they kill each other. The novel is written in the same tense, too - the "historical present", that cliff-hanging, fast-paced, unflinching form that keeps you reading long after your contacts dry out.
Despite similarities, the subject matter is handled with much more bloodshed than in THG. I found that Suzanne Collins stopped short of the full scope of violence and mayhem that she could have unleashed, often taking a kinder, less brutal narrative path. Pierce Brown does not pull these punches. The killing starts almost at once, and continues right to the last few pages of the book. Hard decisions are made - not hard decisions like "I think I love Gale but I have to kiss Peeta to stay alive".
A few quick warnings - "Young Adult" it technically may be, but I would not have wanted to accidentally pick this up at the age of 14. It is very bloody. The violence is pretty relentless. There is (off-stage) rape, (on-stage) prostitution and sex slavery, and lots of swearing (some of it book-specific: I got very tired of that one catchword, "bloodydamn").
I got to read The Hunger Games Trilogy in one straight shot, over a single weekend. Unfortunately, now that I've devoured "Red Rising" in one sitting, I've probably got a terribly long time to wait until the next book comes out. I'll pick it up as soon as it is released - I can't wait to have more of this series.
Give to Others? Yes