This review and others are posted at Inspiring Insomnia.
Reading the reviews of Red Rising on Goodreads saddens me. They are glowing. Rapturous. Of course, I don’t always agree with the consensus, but I usually have some inkling as to why my experience with a book was different from the majority of readers. But in the case of Red Rising, I’m bewildered. What did all these reviewers see and feel that I didn’t?
On its surface, this should have been a 4 or 5 star book for me. It’s a dystopia with shades (many shades) of The Hunger Games. There is a lot of violence. There’s a world that’s revealed to be very different than how it was originally perceived. There are the poor, downtrodden lower-classes fighting for independence against the ruling class. These are some of the elements that usually make a book work for me.
Red Rising started off very promisingly. Darrow lives underground on Mars, working as a miner – a so-called Red. He’s married to the lovely Eo, and he’s fairly content with his lot in life. But Eo isn’t content. She pushes Darrow to understand that they are slaves to the ruling class, the Golds, and a simple act of rebellion leads to her execution. Darrow craves vengeance, and he agrees to undergo an extreme form of plastic surgery, which will transform him into the genetically superior physical appearance of a Gold. He will then attempt to infiltrate the Golds after gaining acceptance into their prestigious Academy.
So far, so good. The preceding events occur during the first 30% of the book. I expected the remainder of the story to consist of a spy drama, with Darrow struggling to maintain his cover as he seeks out Golds who may be sympathetic to his fight. I thought he’d learn the weaknesses of the Golds and how to exploit them during the coming rebellion. Instead, he was assimilated into their society immediately, and there was as very little mention or thought given to the events that led him there. This is when I had my first “Huh?” moment. So much time was spent on transforming Darrow’s body into the perfect Gold, so I assumed that the need for such fastidiousness indicated that there was great danger of being exposed. Nope. There was also much talk of the need to eliminate Darrow’s accent which would peg him as a Red. Darrow also had to erase certain words from his vocabulary and learn to use new ones. Now, this must be trickier than his appearance, because speech involves conscious and constant thought. But he accomplishes this instantaneously. I wondered why so much focus was placed on the various ways Darrow needs to disguise himself, only to have them barely factor into the story again.
At this point, my expectations went out the window, and I was curious to see which path the story will take. It turns out that Darrow takes the path to become a leader of his group at the Academy, tasked with eliminating (or possibly murdering) the competing students in a military-style competition. I’m still not sure how Darrow managed to be accepted as a leader among these bloodthirsty people. He didn’t seem particularly charismatic or more strategic than anyone else. But no matter, because Darrow has seemed to forgotten that he’s not REALLY a Gold, and I pretty much stopped caring when my hopes for an espionage element were dashed and we were left with endless, uninteresting discussions about slaves, discussions of strategic warfare, and the drawbacks of nepotism. These points were repeated over and over, and I checked out.
Despite my misgivings about the book, the number of great reviews makes me think that most readers will enjoy it.
Note I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.