I was very impressed with the first book in this series, Red Rising – see my review here – which charts Darrow’s struggles to establish himself after tragedy strikes and he is left for dead. Would I enjoy this second book that takes the story further?
Darrow is a rebel forged by tragedy. For years he and his fellow Reds worked the mines, toiling to make the surface of Mars habitable. They were, they believed, mankind’s last hope. Until Darrow discovered that it was all a lie…
That is as much of the rather chatty blurb that I’m willing to share, given that you may be inspired to track down the first book. All I will add is that Brown writes with great intensity and pace, so that Darrow and his followers pack an awful lot into this engrossing dystopian, coming-of-age science fiction thriller. I very much like the way the society is structured – after civilisation crashes on Earth, the survivors aspire to rebuild humanity using the precepts of the ancients. So there is slavery with the Reds right down at the bottom of the heap – both literally and metaphorically, and the Golds are the ruling elite with all the genetic gifts, being waited on hand, foot and finger as all the advantages or wealth and power accrue to them.
There is a catch, however. In order to survive as a Gold, you have to fight among your peers to the death, as there is a savage winnowing to ensure the most dangerous and amoral survive. These ruthless killers are the future leaders of this dystopian society, where everyone is rigidly confined within their colour to serve in the capacity preordained by their birth. Moreover it matters little if they are not suited to that task, because if they aren’t, they simply will not live all that long… And if you’re thinking that this setup will inevitably mean this book will contain a degree of violence – you’re absolutely right. This offering is not for the faint-hearted. Limbs are lopped off and people are cut down in a range of savage fights and battles.
This is foot-to-the-floor, full-on adrenaline fuelled action more or less from the first page, right to the startling denouement at the end… Brown is an accomplished storyteller who navigates the twists and turns within this story with deftness and confidence.
Darrow experiences a roller-coaster ride in his fortunes among the Golds, with the tight-knit team he has acquired from his adventures in Red Rising. However, he is also horribly isolated and that loneliness is increasingly weighing heavily on him as he wonders about the point of his mission. I really enjoyed the way Darrow’s character continues to develop throughout this book – he is all the more human and sympathetic for it. And we also need these interludes, in amongst the killing and the mayhem, to allow the reader to rebond with this main protagonist.
For if we don’t care what happens to him, then the whole structure of the book is immediately undermined, as it is the classic embittered hero striving to bring the structure down on the heads of all those around him, while hoping to rebuild something better from the ashes. Brown doesn’t have him slavishly following this path, however. And it is his questioning and doubts that open up the story to a far more interesting set of questions about what he has turned into and whether unleashing this amount of violence upon a lot of innocents, including servants and children, can ever be justified.
And once more – the ending is a doozy. I certainly didn’t see that coming… This is a cracking addition to the trilogy – no middle book slump here. And if you are looking for a new science fiction adventure with plenty of action and excitement, then track down Red Rising.