Review of Red Rising by Pierce Brown
Hype is a dangerous thing for a book. If you build people’s expectations up too much, if the book is even a little disappointing it’s exaggerated ten-fold. Looking at most of the other reviews for Red Rising, I fall into the minority who thought this book was average. I started this book expecting it to be exactly the thing I would read and that would blow me away with epic action, great writing, fast pace and a twisty plot. It delivered on one and a half of those things.
Red Rising is well written, there’s no doubt about it. Pierce Brown can write, and he has a great imagination. A trippy imagination, but a great one. The writing is rich, if heavily descriptive in places, and the world is easy to imagine and vividly imagined by Brown. Most of the dialogue is pretty good too, if melodramatic in a lot of places. If the editing has been a little sharper, the description thinned out, this would have been some of the best writing I’d read so far this year.
But the action, fast pace and twisty plot I expected didn’t show. The action and pace did, just in the final forty or so pages of the book when the story was nearing its end—end in YA fiction terms, which means a cliff-hanger for the next book/s in the series. The final forty pages were intense and relentless, but why couldn’t the three hundred and fifty pages before that be the same? Most of the book was moving back and forth across the crazy landscape of mars, characters arguing, fighting, having random battles that didn’t seem to make a lot of sense most of the time. There was little in the way of plot, and for a book that has been praised for originality, I had a hard time finding anything very original. The kids fight to survive (Hunger Games) while people watch (Hunger Games). The games are corrupt (Hunger Games), and the main character, Darrow ends up turning the games on their heads and exposing the corruption (Hunger Games). The world is unique, the cultures and landscapes and creatures are unique—but it wasn’t enough to distinguish Red Rising from dozens of other games themed YA books.
I like action and fast paced and violence in a book, and this had violence in buckets. I’m not a reader who gripes about character development most of the time, but I want a character I can root for, who I can know or look up to. Darrow wasn’t it. He hasn’t got much to do but think about avenging his family, and Brown spends little time in developing him—apart from the obvious, crazy physical changes he goes through near the beginning (Hunger Games again). During the ‘games’ there are so many characters in play that it’s hard to keep track of them—very few are given any development and when they are, it’s brief and vague.
Overall, this book disappointed. I expected great things—maybe too great. There wasn’t enough plot, pace or action. The writing is awesome, and the set up promises great things. Hopefully the sequel will deliver on what Red Rising didn’t. Man, I really wanted this to be in my top ten books of all time.