Red Rising Review: Is it Worth Reading in 2023?

Red Rising Review: Is it Worth Reading in 2023?
Red Rising by Pierce Brown Cover Art

 I finally decided to pick up Red Rising by Pierce Brown after my friend recommended it countless times. To be honest, I was hesitant. Across the internet, this book seemed to be constantly referred to as the “Hunger Games in Space”. In an oversaturated market of hunger games and battle royales, is Red Rising still worth your time in 2023? Read my spoiler-free review, and I will share my thoughts and rating of the first book in the Red Rising series.

A Quick Spoiler-Free Summary

 Red Rising is a science fiction adventure novel set in the future. The story follows Darrow, the protagonist, as he uncovers deep secrets about his world and embarks on a journey for revenge. In a society that highly values Social Darwinism and stratifies humans based on color coding akin to the caste system, Darrow finds himself betrayed by those he loved and thrown into a harsh world where strength and loyalty are paramount. Seeking revenge against the oppressive Golds, Darrow joins an underground rebellion of Reds determined to take back what is rightfully theirs.

 With suspenseful plot twists, strong characterization, and vivid imagery, Red Rising is an engaging read.

Subterranean Press Cover Art for Red Rising

Red Rising’s “Gray Characters” (did you see what I did there?)

 Let's discuss some characters and we can start with our main character, Darrow. Pierce Brown makes the interesting choice to write in the present tense, first-person POV of Darrow. So we, the reader, spend ALOT of time with him and his thoughts. His internal monologue gets repetitive quickly since Darrow’s motivation is relatively simple - revenge. After the 3rd or 4th time the monologue ended with “my wife’s dream”, I couldn't help but roll my eyes a little. However, Darrow and the first-person POV thrive when Darrow is interacting with other characters.

 Brown can create an astounding supporting class, my personal favorite being Sevro, a runt of a Gold who becomes a loyal friend to Darrow. In 2023, “gray characters” are a hot topic, and Red Rising is in no short supply. Pierce Brown writes in a way that has you empathizing with some of the “villains”, through understandable motivation and heartbreaking backstories. To my surprise, I even found myself rooting for some of the Golds, the prime antagonists of the series.

 Overall, I wish we had more character moments with Darrow and his friends/followers. In my opinion, this is where Red Rising thrives. Instead, much of the book is in Darrow’s own thoughts, and while I am rooting for Darrow, he is not the most likable person in the world.

Official character art by Magali Villeneuve

Is Red Rising just “Hunger Games in Space”?

 When I was looking into this book, the constant comparison was The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. In short, yes, this book is heavily inspired by the Battle Royale genre. After the first few chapters our main character is forced to fight other kids in an arena as onlookers from an oppressive society cheer them on - sound familiar? However, I do believe Brown did enough with the genre to make it compelling. Without getting into spoilers, there are some unique twists and elements that kept me hooked to the very end.

 Where The Hunger Games and Red Rising differ is the graphic content. I saw this series being marketed as young adult along with Suzanne Collin’s classic. Ummmmmm, no? Red Rising does not belong with the YA novels. While it is not the most graphic thing I have ever read, Pierce Brown does not shy away from topics such as murder, sexual violence, suicide, and more. There were times when I had to put the book aside and take a break, with some of the scenes being downright grotesque. And let us not forget, the majority of our cast are kids. If you love the Grimdark genre and you want more Game of Thrones, you will probably love this book, but for me, the violence and assault were overused at times.

A Dystopian Solar System with Excellent World-Building

 Pierce Brown's world-building is fantastic. I loved the dystopian, cyberpunk world he was able to craft. Something about it also feels distinctly fantastical. Many sci-fi books are always trying to prove their points through science or theories. Pierce Brown has no fear when it comes to potentially "non-scientific" artifacts in his story, and I loved this. My personal favorite is the razor, which is basically a lightsaber whip, and it's awesome.

 My only issue with Red Rising's world-building is that we did not get more of it. The few times we are outside of the arena we are given crumbs of this world, but I wanted more. The color-coded society is very deep and complex, and Brown makes it clear that your color is not just your birth, but also physical and mental differences that have manifested over time due to forced evolution. When there is a powerful member of the Gold society on the page, the weight is palpable, because, in this world, they are borderline gods due to their abundance of evolutionary gifts.

 I have heard this gets much better in later books, and I can confirm. I immediately downloaded the next book in the  Red Rising Trilogy, Golden Son, after finishing Red Rising. I can happily say that Pierce Brown immediately dives deeper into his corrupt and complex world.

Should you read Red Rising in 2023?

 While Red Rising has some flaws I still think it is worth your time in 2023. Pierce Brown does just enough to justify the read in the oversaturated Battle Royale Genre. I wanted less of Darrow and more from the supporting cast and world. Also if you are looking to get into the Grimdark and/or sci-fi genre this is a great place to start even if the first-person POV takes some time to get used to. In the end, I give Red Rising by Pierce Brown a 6/10 and I already plan to finish the next book in the series.

Red Rising by Pierce Brown

Buy on Amazon

 If you're a fan of Grimdark, sci-fi, and the hunger game type genre, and don't mind some rather intense scenes, then Red Rising is well worth your time.

 Not only has the Red Rising series gained a devoted fanbase, but it's also been met with praise from critics alike. As rumors surface of a potential television adaptation, now is the ideal moment to get ahead of the trend and experience all that Red Rising has to offer. 

 To summarize, Red Rising is an absorbing and captivating debut novel in the series that will remain compelling until you've reached its conclusion. Pierce Brown has crafted a vivid yet imaginative world filled with riveting action and suspense-driven scenes guaranteed to keep readers engrossed in 2023.

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Jamie Larson