"Uh", I told my cohabitant, "I'm reading this thing that is sort of a cross of Hunger Games and the battle school bits of Ender's game and it's on Mars."
"That sounds awesome", he said.
"Well, it is, but..."
This shouldn't really be compared to the Hunger Games, or anything else really, but it's pretty inevitable given the main ingredients: Future totalitarian dystopia, rigid class society, a televised war between teenagers representing different school houses, and a sprinkle of rebellion. Oh, and some handy future tech to shape the plot.
I picked this up because I have a huge soft spot for Mars. Not the chocolate. Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars, Dan Simmons' Mars, Andy Weir's Mars, Philip K. Dick's Mars, James S. E. Corey's Mars, et cetera. Babylon 5 Mars. You understand. (And there are plenty of other dorks like me.) Well played, Red Rising. I just wish you let the planet play an even greater part in the story, though I'm willing to admit that's an unreasonable point of criticism as long as the genre is not infact Mars Fiction.
This is of course a trilogy starter, with the second volume, Golden son, to be published in January 2015. It's a well shaped first-of-a-trilogy sort of story; it has its own contained arc that gets a satisfying kind of closure, while leaving a bigger arc to play out, of course, over the next two books. I'm taking the time to appreciate this because of recent experiences with series-starters that read more like simply chopped-off books with no questions answered at all. You get a cookie for that, Red Rising.
The class system is colors. There are pinks and greens and browns and blues, and plenty of others. Darrow, the protagonist, is red. He and his fellow reds are pioneers; toiling underground to extract valuable resources so that Mars may eventually be colonized. They have been isolated in their hard work for generations; they have culture, traditions, habits, expectations. Low expectations. They are not unaware of the other colors. There are grays and bronzes and even golden supervisors making appearances every now and then.
Darrow's story takes off when, through a harsh series of events, he finds out he's been deceived. They've all been deceived.
I thought the book started out unconvincing and fairly slow, but once things got rolling, it turned out to be a quickly devoured pageturner. Action and a bit of pathos is what the novel has going for it.
The characters are less solid, including our hero, Darrow. While they're not exactly cardboard, we don't get very far under their skin. The story is told in first person from Darrow's point of view, so we get to look around a little bit in his head, but not quite enough to make the emotional impact of his losses and victories as great as it could have been. He does however develop, learn, and change through his experiences; good for him.
So I was telling my cohabitant about the book and I said, "Well, it's like one of those movies we totally would watch, but maybe not stand in line for at the premiere."
A good action adventure has its time and place, though. It is possible I'll read the next book if I come across it at, well, the right time and in the right place.