Book Review: Red Rising by Pierce Brown
In high school, I used to write a book review every Friday, like clockwork. This was back in the Golden Age, when I was averaging well over a hundred books a year. All that changed when I graduated and got a job and started forking over forty hours of my week in exchange for cash. (In all honesty, I love my job, but I have to grouse about it because That's What Adults Do, Right?)
All that to say: less time to read also means less time to write. But I want to start writing reviews again, and since Joshua has kindly (if imprudently) lent me a soapbox, I get to inflict those reviews on you. Besides: it's 2016, the Current Year. That seems to be an acceptable reason to do anything these days, so I may as well appropriate it myself.
I'll be reviewing all sorts: fiction, non-fiction, fiction that self-identifies as non-fiction, and vice versa. I'm going to have fun with it. My head is generally clearer after writing; whether yours is clearer after reading what I've written is another matter entirely. Let's burn that bridge when we come to it.
“In the densest places of man, humanity most easily breaks down.”
- Pierce Brown, Red Rising
Red Rising is the first in a trilogy and has been likened to The Hunger Games, which (in this reviewer's opinion, at least) is at once unfortunate and misleading. While both stories revolve around heroes and heroines bucking the status quo in futuristic, quasi-dystopian societies, that's pretty much where the similarity ends. I say that as a modest fan of Collins' work. She's a good storyteller. But Pierce Brown is in another league entirely.
I didn't give you a synopsis for two reasons: firstly, because the less you know going in, the better; secondly, because of what I said firstly. Suffice it to say there's some terrific world-building, a memorable cast of characters, and enough dramatic vim to keep even the most reticent reader turning pages late into the night.
Brown is a robust storyteller as well as an entertaining one, and in this respect, he outstrips not only Collins but a good deal of contemporary sci-fi. Any dipstick can overthrow an empire and liberate the oppressed; only a thinker will get his reader to ask whether the empire should really be overthrown and whether the oppressed aren't just as deluded as their oppressors. This is not to say that Brown's game is morally relativistic - it isn't – but rather that he seems acquainted with Chesterton's Fence Principal:
In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principal; a principal which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, ‘I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.’ To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: ‘If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.’
Hard-hitting action notwithstanding, Red Rising is ultimately a consideration of honor, morality, hierarchy, equality, and violence, and the roles they play (for good and for ill) in civilization: the making of it, the sustaining of it, and the destruction of it.
Final verdict? In the words of Lt. Archie Hicox, “Damn good stuff.