So, I picked up Red Rising because of the recent buzz. If you have your finger on the pulse of the YA market, you might’ve heard it brought up, or seen articles like this, that hail Pierce Brown as YA’s new superstar and Red Rising as the next big thing.
I’m always suspicious of mass popular things, but in this case Red Rising (mostly) lives up to the hype. I would have been very frustrated not to finish it, and that to me is always the first sign of a good book. It’s being compared to the Hunger Games a lot, and that is a pretty accurate assessment. Almost irritatingly so. The parallels are numerous.
Dystopian society separated into districts (I mean, castes) ruled over by the Capitol (I mean, the Society)?
Angry, struggling teenager thrust into a competition by dramatic family incident (I won’t give away spoilers)?
Period where they dress up, truss up, and prime their new competitor?
Belligerent, nasty-looking mentor who is secretly wise?
A symbol (like the Mockingjay) that not only describes our hero but also becomes the symbol for a movement?
Underdog companions who may or may not be killed?
Higher-ups watching from cameras? Giving out spoils to favored students? Our hero knowing that they are the “real enemy” even while the teenagers massacre each other?
Holy crap, yes.
Believable, but poignant romance under the surface?
Oh wait, no. That didn’t happen.
Red Rising is also compared to Ender’s Game, and that’s where it differs from Hunger Game’s ‘survival of one’ mentality. There are armies, groups binding together, and actual leadership skills required. Lots of try-fail cycles. This is semi-formulaic storytelling, but so what? I love those stories. Frankly, I love this story. And bonus—the writing is pretty damn good too. Brown sets up his character to be this insanely skilled, physically prime warrior, but then, everyone is like that, so what he really gets to do is describe epic fighting scenes that would actually be impossible in a normal body. I liked Darrow more than I thought I would. He’s a little bit nasty, got some darkness in him, and a part of me wants to really root for him—in the same way in high school, if you suddenly have an amazing football team, all at once you just want to go and cheer on the slaughter? Evil is the enemy, and finally we have someone vicious (not heart of gold good) to go after it.
But okay. The reason why I’m standing on the ‘this book deserves it’ side of the line. Clever world-building, for one. There is so much going on, but I wasn’t confused—and for me (who yawns majorly at epic fantasies) this is quite the feat. Secondly: Sevro. His character alone might have sold the book for me. I love him. AND THANK YOU Pierce Brown for emphasizing friendship over romance. I mentioned already the romance is nothing to write home about. But that’s okay. Because the bonds of friendship, and the complications of respect, loyalty, and forgiveness, make up for it.
Also, Pierce Brown? He’s like this handsome, 26-year old guy, who is charismatic and funny in his interviews, and who came up with the idea for this book while rock-climbing (like on an actual mountain rock, not in a gym with plastic handholds). Are you kidding me? This seems completely genetically unfair. IS HE A GOLD? IS HE THE MUTATED ELITE OF OUR SOCIETY? I am deeply annoyed, but only out of envy.
The final assessment—do I think it’s going to be the NEXT BIG THING?
Here’s why. For one thing, don’t tag your pegasus, people. You can tell Random House doled out some whoppers to market this book. Tons of ARCS went out, dozens of prestigious interviews, and it’s only been on shelves a week. If you go to the website, there are premade buttons and widgets you can use to promote your fandom. Kind of like buying a Coca-Cola shirt—you’re paying to advertise for them. They are banking on this going big.
Lucky for them, it is a pretty good book. But surrounding it with this much hype will automatically give people permission to read it with a critical eye. They’re wondering, “What’s the big deal?” before they even crack the first page. Note that Hunger Games, Twilight, and Harry Potter didn’t get massively dissected until after they were huge hits.
Secondly—and this is not really even an insult—I think the book is too smart. There’s no formula for making a smash success, but one thing they all seem to have in common is major mass appeal. Your mom could read it. Your kid brother. Your little sister. A single accountant. A married athlete. Whatever. And since 80% of readers are female (no lie, there have been studies done), and the romance here is wanting, I’m not sure everyone will like it. Scifi/fantasy fans will love it. People who like to read everything will love it. But the average joe? I don’t know. I wouldn’t recommend this to my mother (who liked the Hunger Games). I think all the military stuff and complicated world-building would bore her. My little sister? No. She’s young, and I think a lot of it would be slight confusing, slightly headache-inducing.
Still, I think it will do really well, regardless, but maybe not rise to the level they’re possibly wanting. But hey, I won’t be mad if I’m wrong.