The Red Rising Trilogy by Pierce Brown, Review by Corinne Donnelly
Note: There will be no spoilers in this review, although plot points from the back cover of each book are mentioned.
Red Rising, Golden Son, and Morning Star are the first three books in the Red Rising Saga written by Pierce Brown. They make up the complete first trilogy. Brown is currently writing another trilogy set ten years after the events of Morning Star. Iron Gold, the first book in the new trilogy, will be released on January 16th, 2018.
The original trilogy chronicles seven years in the life of Darrow, a sixteen-year-old miner on Mars who rises up the ranks of society in order to topple a corrupt system of government. The society is structured into a tiered-system based on the color citizens are born into. Your color defines who you can become and the level of power you can reach. Reds, the lowest color, are resigned to hard labor and treated as slaves, while Golds, the ruling class, bred into genetically enhanced beings with access to technology that gives them god-like powers, lord over the other colors.
Red Rising – 10/10
Red Rising hones in on Darrow’s infiltration of Gold society and his training to become a member of its elite forces. It is the most atmospheric of the three novels, effectively introducing the sci-fi setting and establishing its unique dynamics. Brown also provides detailed background information about Darrow and his family, helping solidify his motivations and dreams for a better society, which will play a greater role in the following two books.
The pacing of the first quarter of the book is much slower than the rest of the trilogy, but that does not make it any less interesting. Once Darrow becomes a Gold and begins his training at the Institute, the book becomes exceedingly difficult to put down. The power plays, betrayals, and brutal displays of violence never cease to entertain, but the appeal comes primarily from the relationships Darrow forms with his fellow pupils. Most of the main characters in the trilogy are introduced in this book, and they become integral players in Darrow’s life. Sevro is the true stand-out. His bizarre behavior and foul mouth lighten the mood considerably.
Red Rising has the most self-contained plot of the trilogy. If you enjoy books with lots of action, unconventional school settings, and strong protagonists fighting injustice, it will certainly hit the spot. But keep in mind that once you start, you may not be able to stop.
Golden Son – 9/10
Golden Son is the most political of the three books, with Brown emphasizing what makes the Society so corrupt and how Darrow manages to navigate its treacherous waters. Darrow is forced to make even tougher decisions, which affect progressively larger swathes of people as the plot moves forward.
The second novel seems more internal than the first, likely a result of feeling more comfortable reading from Darrow’s perspective. The further time he spends as a Gold, the more his original mission gets lost in the chaos. Darrow’s struggle to justify his decisions gives him a more interesting inner life. Things may come easily for him, but his internal conflict screams imperfection, and causes Darrow a lot of trouble.
Brown writes twists exceedingly well. They appear throughout the trilogy, but they pack the most punch in Golden Son. As the reader becomes more familiar with the characters, the proverbial maxim, “You can’t judge a book by its cover” comes across as both good advice and ominous warning. As the plot moves on, a deep sense of unease emerges, since Darrow no longer knows who he can trust.
The second and third books build off of each other significantly, so if you start Golden Son, you will definitely be compelled to move onto Morning Star.
Morning Star – 7/10
Morning Star is the most action-packed book in the trilogy. It hones in on the gory nature of war and rebellion, which is, naturally, depressing. Darrow matures significantly in the final installment, but not without some serious losses. It’s also easy to become lost in the many descriptive battle scenes.
Beloved characters from the first two novels return, and many more are introduced. The sheer amount of new characters can be overwhelming. Darrow relies heavily on his friends, as he learns that he cannot fight corruption in a vacuum. Sevro continues to be the comic relief throughout, but his humor often falls flat in such an overwhelmingly dark book.
The book does feel rushed at times, and it drags somewhat in the middle, but the final third makes up for it. As everything starts to fall into place and loose ends are tied up, it’s a very satisfying conclusion, albeit bittersweet.
Even with my nitpicking about the final book, I would still highly recommend this trilogy to friends and family. I am also looking forward to reading the upcoming new trilogy.
The Red Rising Trilogy is categorized under Young Adult Science Fiction, but I find that misleading. The characters may be young, but the writing is on par with most adult sci-fi series. The extreme violence, imaginative swearing, and dark themes also strike me as intended for an older audience, but to each his own. It’s a bloodydamn good read regardless, and I’m glad I finally got around to picking it up.