“Red Rising” is hyped as a “must read “science fiction book with a great plot, well developed characters, fast-paced action and an underdog, Darrow, who is trying to overcome his oppressors. This first book in a trilogy meets its expectations and more.
Darrow is a 16-year-old Red, who with his wife, Eo, lives in a society where classes of people are color-coded.
The Golds are the elite and live on Earth; the Reds are at the bottom and live under the surface of Mars. They’re laborers, in effect, slaves.
Darrow is a Helldiver, digging minerals daily out of the mines to make Mars habitable for members of other color classes at a later date. Reds are regularly complimented by being told they are the “strongest of the human breed, making sacrifice for progress, sacrifice to pave the way for the future.”
Darrow works hard, even to the point of almost killing himself to help his team gain the Laurel – the award for most “pulled” raw helium 3. Gamma has won the award for years. The team that wins gets sugar and fruit and extra food.
Darrow knows the numbers will show that his team has outperformed the othes, but when the award is announced, Gammas win again. Now Darrow and Eo are certain that the contest is rigged.
For Darrow’s birthday, Eo takes him to an old ventilation shaft that leads to the surface of Mars, knowing it is an unapproved area.
There they find trees, grass, animals and the sky. They realize that Mars is habitable, but no one has told them. She tells Darrow, “Emptiness is a life without freedom.” When they leave the shaft, they are arrested.
When they are taken to the gallows, there are many visitors, including two special visitors, a Gold leader - a Peerless Scarred - the finest of the Golds, and Nero au Augustus, the ArchGovernor of Mars. Darrow is given 48 lashes. He begs that he be given Eo’s lashes too, but the ArchGovernor refuses and gags Darrow. When the 13th lash falls on Eo, she begins to sing a forbidden song, and the ArchGovernor commands that she be hanged. Before she dies, she mouths to Darrow, “Live for more.”
Individuals who are hanged are left to hang for months as a warning to others.
But Darrow cuts her body down and buries her near a tree on the surface of Mars, knowing he will hang for his rebellious act. Darrow is taken to the gallows and hanged, but a resistance group takes him from the gallows and resurrects him.
Their goal is to have this new Darrow become a Gold, infiltrate that elite class and get justice for the underdogs. They alter Darrow’s appearance, add surgically muscle fiber, install a data chip in his frontal lobe and change his thinking and vocabulary to that appropriate for a Gold. This process takes months, during which Darrow almost dies and is in a coma for two weeks.
Once in the Golds, Darrow must score well on a test to be accepted to the Institute, where he will be trained, receive patronage and have his own fleet of airships. Darrow does score well - one of the highest scores - and is accepted into the Institute. Each participant is placed into one of a number of houses, all of which are named after gods or mythical characters - Apollo, Ceres. Diana, Juno, Jupiter, Mars and Minerva. Then the competition between houses begins to determine which Gold prevails.
The author, Pierce Brown, lives in Los Angeles, were he scribbles tales of spaceships, wizards, ghouls and other things old or bizarre.