I scooped this offering up from the shelves because it was labelled Science Fiction and I liked the cover. As you can see, I’ve all the depth of a pavement puddle when choosing my next read…
Darrow is a Helldiver, one of a hundred generations of people who live beneath the surface of Mars, spending their lives toiling to mine the precious elements that will allow the planet to be terraformed. Just knowing that once day, people will be able to walk the surface of the planet is enough to justify their sacrifice. The Earth is dying, and Darrow and his people are the only hope humanity has left. Until the day Darrow learns that it is all a lie.
This truncated version of the rather chatty blurb sets up the opening stages of this dystopian science fiction adventure with the strapline: Ender’s Game meets The Hunger Games. Hm. Not sure about that one. While there are definitely elements of The Hunger Games to this adventure, this is grittier.
I love the character of Darrow – his first person narration is punchy and memorable. He has a range of extraordinary talents, yet as he is constantly floundering in amongst a group who know far more about what is going on than he does, he doesn’t come off as too invulnerable. I have strict rules about not verging into spoiler territory, so discussing this particular dystopian fast-paced adventure in any depth immediately poses some challenges. However, I can assure you that one major difference between The Hunger Games and Red Rising is that Darrow isn’t in the middle of a love triangle.
In order for a dystopian science fiction adventure to work, the world has to be convincing; the faultlines within the society have to make sense and the progression into the sorry state the world finds itself also has to be plausible. There also needs to be sufficient complexity to provide plenty of realistic tension to continue giving the protagonist challenges as he struggles to change things in a believable manner. All in all, this is a hefty list – and it is the most common reason why a significant selection of dystopian science fiction offerings go flying across the room, no matter how personable the protagonist.
But Brown manages to tick all the boxes on that score – he has a detailed backstory, with a layered, unequal society and strong, plausible reasons for it to be that way. The description of Darrow’s daily life as a Helldiver in the mines of Mars is extremely well done, providing a vivid insight into what makes him tick, which is really important when he makes some daft decisions later on. But it also meant that I strongly bonded with him – also crucial further on in the book when he takes some dark decisions. All in all, this is a memorable, engrossing read and I’m in the process of tracking down the second book, Golden Son.