I was introduced to Pierce Brown’s novel, Red Rising, by a member of my writing group. Keith described it saying, “You want to be mad at it for being like Hunger Games, but it’s better.” The summation of this review is that Keith was right.
The story takes place on dystopian Mars. Our narrator, Darrow, is a Red. Being part of the lowest of a color-coded caste system, he and his people work deep in the bowels of a colony on Mars. Circumstances lead Darrow to join a revolutionary group that will use his skills and abilities to infiltrate the Golds by enlisting him in the “Institute”, an arena-like school for the social elite.
Here’s what I loved about this book:
1. Character motivation- The Hunger Games gets off to a cleaner start than this novel. The system of selection, Katniss’ sacrifice, are all much cleaner than Darrow’s awakening into a revolutionary. However, Brown does a much, much better job of building a character that burns with anger over what happened to him and his people. Katniss has an embittered point of view that goes from hopeless to triumphant. Darrow gives us fire and passion throughout, and is far easier to root for.
2. Violence- Like many dystopians in the Young Adult genre, this book features immense amounts of violence. My take? If you’re going to have the violence in there, it should at least make sense and be well done. The Hunger Games pits young children against each other in a believable, violent setting. Red Rising does the same, only it does it better. The men and women heading into this arena are all built for violence. The system their mentors put them through is cruel and merciless. Brown does a far better job of providing us with tactics, gruesome descriptions, and turned tables. I think what stood out is how he can slow down those scenes and display what’s happening. His descriptive writing really reaches a level that Collins can’t touch.
3. Supporting Cast- To me, this was the major difference. If you think about the characters around Katniss, they’re okay. Peeta? He’s got that politician polish to him. Gale has that “revolutionary” thing going. Haymitch was a clever derivation from the “wise mentor” role. Some of the opponents even fascinate us in book one… Rue is heart-breaking and Foxface is a survivor and Cato is brutal and…. they all lack depth! They’re forgettable in the end. Not the supporting cast in Red Rising. Cassius is fascinating, and has a reason to hate Darrow that is undiscovered. Sevro is a chilling, demon of a character that we can’t help but love. Titan is terrifying, but only a shadow of greater evils to be faced. I was surprised by how well-done all of Brown’s characters were. Really easy to love or hate, but infinitely followable and understandable.
4. The World- Authenticity of language and world-building terms were just wonderful in this book. He had me wanting to say “bloodydamn” or “gorydamn”. I wanted to fight the Golds alongside the Reds. I wanted to talk in the HighSpeak with Cassius. There is just an infinitely cool and well-built world in this book by Pierce Brown.
In conclusion, if you liked The Hunger Games at all, you’ve found the next and better book to read. I really believe that this book outshines it’s predecessor in word for word writing. I’ll never deny The Hunger Games as a brilliant and entertaining book. It’s just not as clever as what Brown has done, and not nearly as well-written. Already looking forward to the sequel!