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!

A Mid-Book Review: The Daedalus Incident

“Never trust anyone that has not brought a book with them.” Lemony Snicket

My current book is The Daedalus Incident by Michael J. Martinez (https://twitter.com/mikemartinez72). I encountered the book through Sara Megibow (https://twitter.com/SaraMegibow) who, aside from being a wonderfully available agent willing to answer questions of interested authors, is great at championing her clients’ works. Out of respect for the advice she’s offered me, I decided to check out The Daedalus Incident.

And so far? I’m thrilled that I chose this one to read. The tale follows two storylines. The first features Jain, a gritty lieutenant involved in the mining operations on Mars in the 2100’s. Martinez does a pretty great job of projecting our current world forward in terms of technology and general space exploration. The world he’s built around Lt. Jain is believable, interesting, and a tasty treat for the science fiction fan. The other story features Lt. Thomas Weatherby and his undertakings aboard the HMS Daedalus in the 18th century.

The only catch?

Some kind of alchemical advancement has drastically altered the course of history. Martinez shoves us into the action as he shows the Daedalus traveling, not through the high seas, but the Void as they round Mercury. This alternative history drags in a number of curious, historical figures that everyone that’s been to high school has heard of.

My take: This is a very solid book. I have to admit that, after reading Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series, I didn’t think I’d be up for another story featuring a “proper” naval commander. Weatherby grew on me quickly though. And his side of the story is jam-packed with wonderful, imaginative science fiction / fantasy elements. The mystery behind how the world has transformed so drastically does a wonderful job of pulling us forward in the plot. The worlds we get to experience? Creative and clever. I love this side of the story and cannot wait to figure out the mystery that Martinez is leading us toward.

So what do I not like?

I have to admit that Lt. Jain’s side of the story took a while to pick up for me. There is a mystery there as well. We begin to wonder if these two worlds and histories will collide (with cleverly dropped hints by Mr. Martinez). However, Jain is one of those “tough and gritty” characters that I have a hard time attaching to as a reader. The introduction of a Bill Nye-esque character helped pull me back in. I have to admit, I’m not a huge “hard science” guy, so there are parts where I drift in and out.

I also did a lot of thinking on the ideas of “the teaser”. Martinez deftly maneuvers between the two story lines, often leaving us with somewhat climactic discoveries at the end of each chapter. I first encountered this “leading on” of the reader in The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. Her chapters are done so well that you are really forced to keep going and learn more. I noticed sometimes that in Martinez’s work, I was feeling two different ways.

Half of the time: Enticed. I wanted more. I loved it. It pulled me on through the text and I was genuinely getting goosebumps over the mystery.

Half of the time: Mad. I was enjoying that section and was upset that I’d have to read a full 4 pages of something I wasn’t as interested in to wait for the revelation of what they discovered.

I guess there’s just a balance to be struck in these kinds of stories. I know that I was writing a story with multiple perspectives and I had to stop. I just didn’t have the chops for it at that point.

Mchael Martinez not only HAS the chops for it, but he has succeeded in creating a genuine, genre-bending, thrill-seeking adventure book. Go find him at your local bookstore! Or order on amazon! Or anything! Whatever you have to do to get your hands on this good read. I highly suggest reading it if you have any interest in the following things:

Mars

Naval Ships

Some of our founding fathers

Romance / Fighting / Plundering

Alchemy

Alternative History

Life.

Until next time, happy reading!