“Ender, Katniss, and now Darrow.” That’s thriller author Scott Sigler’s recommendation on the front cover of newcomer Pierce Brown’s debut novel, Red Rising, that chronicles lowbred Red miner Darrow’s improbable infiltration of the Gold hierarchy on the planet Mars. It’s heady praise by comparison, but after reading the first in what is sure to be a series, I’m convinced that this Hunger Games-for-adults is just what I’ve been looking for in adult fiction.
Darrow is content to lay low, do his job, and suffer silently as a Red, the lowest caste in the Mars system. It’s his job to harvest helium-3, and he scrapes by. But his wife, Eo, has different plans for them, and suddenly, Darrow is thrust into the role of revolutionary. An unwilling participant at first, he goes where Katniss and Ender did not: he becomes one of the oppressors, entering into the Lord of the Flies/Battle Royale culling that is the Golds’ training of their young, a mess of death and destruction indeed. It’s political games a la Game of Thrones but with even more riding on it than simple rule.
Brown has captured fantastically the realm of science fiction, in a world that has moved from vampires to zombies and now, dystopian futures! But his writing isn’t the whiny romance of Twilight or solely the noble mimicking of Avatar. Instead, he rolls in the psychological work of the Stanford prison experiment (and Flies) in a way that we see ourselves mirrored in Darrow’s tale. [Seriously, does anyone, even the rich, ever read a novel or watch a movie like this, and sympathize with the oppressors?] Sure, this is bloodydamn entertaining, but it’s also a look at what it means to be truly human, truly advanced, truly moral.
I fear telling too much for what I might give away, but in Darrow’s transition, his mission as a Red-turned-Gold insider, we see him discovering that decisions aren’t as easy as black and white. I found myself wondering how Moses of the Old Testament might’ve related to Darrow, as a slave-born baby growing up as one of the Pharaoh’s sons? I wondered what we might’ve seen from the early disciples or Jesus himself, as some even call Darrow ‘Messiah,’ in an unexpected twist. Still, there’s the way Darrow grows as a leader that struck me… hard.
At one point in his development, Darrow sees the difference between ‘slaving’ and ‘discipling.’ He recognizes that fear only drives a person’s obedience or loyalty so far, but love … love does something different. When he chooses to bear the scars of one of his own, he unites those who follow him in a way that is breath-taking. And incarnational. For me, following Jesus means recognizing that Jesus loved me first, that Jesus lived life here on Earth so that I would recognize that he knew what it was like, that I would understand his expectations and model weren’t just handed down from on high. Darrow takes the life on for himself and earns the love of his fellowman (echoing Katniss’ taking of Prim’s place in the selection for the Hunger Games, but magnified exponentially).
Pierce Brown has me hooked, and I can’t wait to see what comes next for Darrow. It’s my first favorite book of 2014, and merits a trip to the bookstore or Amazon. With haste.