Book Review: Red Rising

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!

Hot Reads, Zeke! – 10 Books to Grab Now

As a teacher and a writer, I cannot tell you how often people ask me:

“Are you reading anything good right now?”

People want to read and they often struggle to branch off from a series they liked. Fans of Hunger Games always like to read…. the Hunger Games. We have this tendency to re-read, when there are thousands of new books out there! So here is a list of great books I’ve read (and some that I’ve just heard of) that I think will fit the interests of readers that have liked some of the best selling books over the past 10 years.

1. Red Rising by Pierce Brown- A character living in the caves of Mars that thinks the surface isn’t habitable, but little does he know… This book was suggested to me by Keith Dupuis. He described it saying, “You want to get mad at it for being like Hunger Games, but it’s better than Hunger Games.”

Suggested for readers of: The Hunger Games, Divergent, etc.

2. The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie- A very gritty fantasy world that is incredibly character-driven. The story of impending war is told from multiple perspectives and we center on the ominous figure of Logen Ninefingers, whose luck seems to be running out. Like Game of Thrones, this fantasy realm has magic as an almost dying art. Very few people are a part of the world that possesses magic and it allows for real, authentic characters and their decisions toward good and bad to be central.

Suggested for readers of: A Song of Ice and Fire, Lord of the Rings, etc.

3. The Daedalus Incident by Mike Martinez- I wrote a blog post about this not too long ago. It’s a wonderful book. Combining science fiction and a sort of steampunk-ish adventure aboard sailboats cruising space. Oh, and Benjamin Franklin has been invited. Highly suggest this for readers of science fiction!

4. The Darwin Elevator by Jason M. Hough- 23rd century Earth has centered around the city of Darwin after a mysterious, alien plague has transformed the rest of the population into, for lack of a better word, zombies. A space elevator (also installed by mysterious alien forces) is the rally point for all of civilization. I’ve just begun reading this story, but I can already tell its going to be great. The action moves quickly, the world is absolutely fascinating, and there are mysteries that we are already unfolding at the start of the story. Wonderful stuff.

5. His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik- I stumbled upon this series as I did some research on dragons. Imagine the Napoleonic Wars… but with an air force of dragons. The story follows a naval commander that captures a dragon egg from an enemy ship. His adventures with the hatched dragon are worth the read.

Suggested for readers who like: Harry Potter, naval books, historical accounts, etc.

6. The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova- The book that made me fall in love with Europe! A young girl adventures with her father through modern Europe… and a dark history haunted by the ghost of Vlad Tepes, also known as “Dracula”.

7. Looking for Alaska by John Green- A name that a lot of folks know these days, but if your kids have trouble getting into reading, John Green provides plenty of entertainment that will rope them in. His characters are realistic, have authentic high-school voices, and don’t shy away form actual problems.

8. The Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson- An obvious name in fantasy, but too few people actually know his work. If you’re into the epic fantasies that focus on war-torn and war-impending colonies, this is the book for you. I loved Erikson because his learning curve is STEEP and his magical system rocks. Not to mention his characters all feel a little larger than life. Gripping read… I didn’t hit the brakes until the 6th book, when I was ready for other styles and genres.

9. “Insomnia” a short story by Stuart Dybek – Have you ever seen the famous diner painting called Nighthawks by Edwin Hopper? Well, Dybek brings it to life in his stunning, fluid prose. We explore the thin line between the waking and dreaming world, as well as the thin line between connection and disconnection in the world we live in. We need more writers like Dybek being taught in our schools.

10. “China Men” by Maxine Hong Kingston- Again, a name that is growing in popularity and even in use in schools. I recently discovered someone at my school is teaching one of her other memoir’s. She does a wonderful job of blending the stories of her childhood with fictional tales and mythical tales. Kingston successfully demolishes our view of immigration and the difficulties that come with a family moving to America.

Hope you enjoyed the list! Please share with others!