Pre-read: Edit 12/2/2013: ZOMG! I’m approved. Thank you author, publisher and NetGalley gods and goddesses.

(Seriously, this just made my day. I’m looking forward to reading it.)

Please, please, please NetGalley gods and goddesses, grant my ARC request to read this book because I want. I WANT!

(This is back up again on NetGalley for request, guys, so this isn’t completely coming at random. I’m hoping I get it this time around, but I’m having my fingers crossed. If it goes through, I’ll probably read it straightaway. Just depends when.)

Post-read: Very pleasantly surprised. It took a bit for me to find the flow of reading it in the beginning, but it was well worth the journey.

Full review:

“Do you remember standing on a broken field
White crippled wings beating the sky
The harbingers of war with their nature revealed
And our chances flowing by

If I can let the memory heal
I will remember you with me on that field

When I thought that I fought this war alone
You were there by my side on the frontline
When I thought that I fought without a cause
You gave me a reason to try.”

– lyrics from “War” by Poets of the Fall

Dude…this song matches my experience reading this book to a tee. It’s one of my favorites, thought I’d quote a portion of it to start off on a thematic note.

This is probably the most difficult review I’ve had to write in all of 2014 so far. Pierce Brown’s “Red Rising” was a joy to read – emotionally jarring, beautiful writing, vivid worldbuilding, and a very distinct character voice, but trying to describe in detail the experience of what I loved about this novel has eluded me more times than not.

I will say that the story isn’t without some issues – I’ll address those shortly as I go through the review, but I’ll say that I ended up reading this twice, once through the galley version and the other through the audio version as narrated by Tim Gerard Reynolds (who does a brilliant job of giving Darrow’s narrative voice weight and emotional intensity in the places where it counts. He has a very nice singing voice as well). I said it once and I’ll say it again, if you can get the audio version of this book and you like audiobooks, it would be good to try – it’s almost a different experience. I’ll admit I thought better of the narrative as a result.

This first book in the like named trilogy comes from the perspective of 16-year old Darrow, a Red working on the planet of Mars as a Helldiver. He starts the novel as little more than a slave, working under an oppressive hierarchy, but his work is purposeful. He hopes to terraform the planet by mining precious resources from the work. The light of his life is his wife Eo, and despite the grave injustices between the different factions established, he survives.

But there are some, like Eo, who are tired of simply living within the current means. I’ll admit as the oppressive standards of the society were gradually revealed, my interest in the narrative grew. I didn’t know how I felt about Eo’s purported role in the conflict at first, but upon second read, and notably with the delivery given by Reynolds performance, it really drove home the emotional impact of those events as they transpired. I did have some issues with the depiction of women in parts of this – with a bit of Darrow’s overfocus on beauty in this narrative, but I read onward because I was intrigued by the story and scenario alike. I think certain parts of this could’ve been much better in presentation, though.

Suffice to say, after some jarring events, Darrow realizes he’s been lied to for much of his life and respective role. He’s recruited (not by much choice) by a group of rebels who want to take down the ruling Golds and give Darrow the justice (or revenge depending on how you see it) he craves for what he has lost. His transformation into a Gold is fascinating to watch – I definitely had deja-vu of the story of “Pygmalion” during those turns of the narrative (some may also get deja-vu vibes courtesy of “My Fair Lady”, which is based on Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw.)

Suffice to say, Darrow becomes one hefty, powerful Gold by the time his transformation is complete. And he’s in a game that he has to play whether he likes the events that transpire or not. It’s like watching Goku from Dragonball have all these respective abilities and trying to watch him struggle to figure out the best way to use them, whether its in clashes with the people he’s come to hate, fighting against people he’s come to care for, and otherwise trying to maintain his identity/sense of self. Darrow doesn’t want to blow his cover, he knows that people are counting on him, but as the saying goes “With great power, comes great responsibility.”

Darrow struggles with the weight of this responsibility, and I appreciated seeing that. I didn’t think of him as faultless, because he makes some very questionable moral choices in his journey as a Gold and in the midst of battle strategies that lend to his role as leader of an army. He kills one of his comrades early on (one he actually had something of a connection to despite his quest) and pretty much lies about it in one part of the narrative because he has no choice – his decisions are a larger part of the goal he’s trying to reach and there are times when he’s corrupted by that. It doesn’t come without him bargaining his role and decisions, and he learns from that. The way Brown depicts this was well worth reading through, especially when Darrow ends up dealing with the repercussions of that decision as the novel moves forward. Though I’ll admit there were times I wanted to smack Darrow on the back of his bloodydamn head for his impulses. (I’ve a feeling Mustang wanted to as well.)

The cast of characters in this narrative are complex and interesting to watch in their respective roles and clashes in the conflict. (There are a good many of them, and it can be difficult to keep track of the different groups and terms that this book places in front of you, but I was able to follow it well.) Brown does not shy away from the brutality of the world that’s built in this narrative, and I’ll admit I appreciated that as well. I did think the narrative struggled a bit with pacing in the overarching story in general – the beginning and towards the ending were probably the most fluid in pacing, while parts of the middle sagged because of the respective buildup. Yet it was purposeful, and admittedly it was easier for me to take in when I read it the second time around in audioform.

I think “Red Rising” on the whole, was an enthralling journey for not just the ambitious scale it takes on, but for the level of development it really has. I do hope that the future books even out the pacing a little more than what this one offered, but nonetheless, I’m here for the journey, and really looking forward to seeing where this ends up.

Overall score: 4/5 stars

Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher Del Rey (Random House).

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