Red Rising

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Author: Jan Clothier
Date: Dec. 2016
From: Collected Magazine(Issue 18)
Publisher: School Library Association of New Zealand Aotearoa
Document Type: Book review; Young adult review
Length: 557 words

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So, where to start on this compulsive can't put-me-downer? It's dystopian, it's science fiction, it's a war story, it's a love story, it's a bildungsroman, it's a bit of all sorts of things, with echoes of other fictional worlds, but the sum is greater than all the parts.

The hero of my new favourite dystopia is Darrow, a hell-diver in the mines beneath Mars. He and his people live their whole lives below ground and believe their sacrifice will one day make Mars habitable for humanity. The long hours, the shortages and brutal laws are leavened for Darrow by his family and his beloved wife, Eo.

One of the things I enjoyed about this novel is the way we are plunged into a fully-realised world which reveals itself to us. I've heard some people say they were put off by jargon and not understanding the society but to me, part of the pleasure was realising what a different world the story is set in without frequent didactic passages. And what a place it is! It's not giving too much away to say that society is stratified by colour, each with its own function and each with a degree of genetic and social manipulation to make sure they fit their purpose. Darrow's Reds are the bottom of the heap while Golds rule the world; in fact, they rule the solar system.

Tragedy strikes Darrow after an illicit excursion to an above-ground domed garden, set aside for higher colours, results in Eo's death. Rescued from his own fate by the militant group Sons of Ares, Darrow's double life begins. When shown the truth of his world--that Mars is already habitable he agrees to infiltrate Gold society and bring it down from within.

Once launched into this plan, he begins to discover that every colour pays a price and that not all Golds deserve to die. He experiences doubt and uncertainty. However, having been accepted into the elite Gold Academy his first and only task is to survive the experience. Quite aside from the physical struggles and battles, he also has to survive jealousies, power struggles and politics both on and off the field.

However much I enjoyed this book, it is not a book to hand to just any student. Life at the Gold Academy makes up a large portion of this book and it does make The Hunger Games look like a kindergarten outing in comparison; even Lord of the Flies begins to look tame. Murder, rape and cannibalism all make appearances, although the last two are off-page. I'm not completely convinced this is YA fiction at all. Although he seems much older, Darrow is about seventeen when the story begins. Most of the protagonists are in their teens but this alone does not make a novel Young Adult. The vocabulary is rich enough, the ideas complex enough, and it is certainly violent enough, to be considered an adult novel with a Young Adult crossover. It's a good addition to the library but will sit firmly in Senior Fiction.

Red Rising is not without its faults but I am already reading the sequel, Golden Son, and the final book Morning Star, will be jumping to the head of my 'to-read' pile as soon as it arrives.

Reviewed by Jan Clothier, Karamu High School, Hastings

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A465810617