Friday, September 6, 2013

Red Rising is the dystopia sci fi you've been waiting for!

Disclaimer: I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

Trigger Warning and Some Words on the Dystopia genre.

If you have issues with reading about rape, I would warn you to read with caution, but I would also reassure you that this story does not trivialize it. Instead, it provides a refreshing, badly needed take on the effects and impact of sexual violence. One young readers can easily understand, and will counter a great deal of popular misinformation they see and hear about it.

While we do not see rape first hand in the narrative, it is portrayed in realistic and respectful manner. Red Rising shows how rape and sexual violence is used as tool of oppression, terror and war. Demonstrating the effects not only upon victims, but upon their peers and shows that there is no easy solution or resolution for trauma of this nature. Which, sadly, is rare among books in this genre, and is just one of many ways Red Rising brings a level of authenticity and relevance to the dystopian genre has been lacking since it’s recent resurgence.

I’ve struggled with books in this new young adult take on the dystopia genre, either due to a lack of detailed world building and/or believable political structure. These fundamental aspects of the genre, that define it as a dystopia. When a story is a simplistic fantasy that neither inspires self examination or encourages a greater awareness of the world around us, it is not only a disservice to the reader, but an insult to the genre that rose in popularity after World War II. When we saw first hand just how easily a perfectly planned society could go terribly wrong. 

A dystopian story should not only demonstrate the fundamental flaws of a utopian society, but also show why it is such a seductive lie. They should demonstrate how social control can appear to be a simple solution to the complex issues of human conflict, how people on every level of a society can willingly believe the lie, and how hard it is for them to give it up. Red Rising does this in unparalleled ways, and consequentially leaves a majority of the new era dystopian novels in its dust.

In the future, society is divided into a rigid class system designated by colors. Your color defines your vocation, ability to rise in society and worth as a human being (if you’re even acknowledge as one). The highest class being Gold, the lowest being Red. 

Darrow, the protagonist, is a Red, a miner who lives and works deep in the heart of Mars. He is also a husband at age sixteen. His world is forever changed by the cruel actions of a powerful Gold. Grief-stricken and bent on revenge, he sets out on a journey that will challenge everything he believes about his world. In the end he will become something new and dangerous. 

One of the things I love about Darrow is that despite the fact that his life is hard, and filled with very adult responsibilities, he is still a kid in a lot of very tangible ways. He makes a lot of mistakes, but he also learns from them. His motivations, especially in the beginning of the story, are very simple and emotional, but those change and mature as does he. Despite the fact that he is given a lot of mental and physical enhancements, it is Darrow himself - his love, loyalty, and stubborn refusal to give up no matter the odds - that ends up being his most valuable asset.

He is also not a lone hero, though this is his story. Darrow is surrounded by a fascinating and surprisingly diverse cast of characters (I do mean diverse), all who are whole, complex people in their own right. Each have something of value, or a lesson to teach Darrow along the way. A great deal of his success and failure is dependent on his relationships with others, both adult and fellow adolescents. Friendships and trust are two things that will either make or break him, that is something you rarely see in stories of any genre.

There are many stand outs characters, some who absolutely stole my heart (I’ll revel their names once the book is released), but I think it’s important to note that many are female. In fact, women are present and powerful on all sides of this conflict. They are part of the oppressive Gold elite, soldiers, prostitutes, servants and fellow rebels. But even more important is how Darrow views women. He treats them as equals, and often time as superiors. He listens to them, respects and fears them, all things rarely seen in a male protagonist in any genre. 

One woman plays a fundamental role in Darrow’s journey, his wife Eo. While the blurb for the book makes her fate kind of obvious, how it is treated is surprising and sets an example for treatment of female characters. Eo is strong, much stronger than Darrow, as he says on many occasions and that strength plays a crucial part in the story. Without it, Darrow could never become the man he needs to be, the man Eo wants him to become and that turns what was could have been a sexist cliche on its ear. 

Fans of the genre, and of science fiction and/or YA will not be disappointed. This is a perfect step up for existing fans of genre and a great introduction for new readers. Though I would hesitate to recommend this for middle grade readers, age 12 is the youngest I’d go and even then I would look at whether the reader has really ever seen or deal with the realities of violent content. This is most definitely a young adult book, heavy emphasis on the adult part. It is not for the faint of heart. 

Red Rising is a real, raw exploration of very dark issues. Darrow’s world is filled with violence and death, even before he becomes a rebel. Brown does not shy away from showing the consequences of violence. 

Good people die in horrible ways, needlessly and painfully, much as they do in real wars. Blood is shed and death has a very profound impact, even upon those who do the killing. Death is not beautiful or poetic. It is ugly, horrible, and sometimes necessary. Even in the moments when it is just, it does not feel “right.” Everyone has blood on their hands, even Darrow and in this way Red Rising is one of the most honest portrayals of violence in young adult fiction I have ever read.

Red Rising will challenge readers even as it entertains and inspires them. It will keep you turning the pages long past when you swore you’d stop reading and go to sleep. It will capture your imagination, steal your heart and maybe even teach you something about yourself, and your place in the world. 

I highly recommend this book to fans of science fiction, dystopia, parents and teachers who wish to help young readers better understand sociopolitical issues, as well as world news that might seem far removed from their lives.


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