This year I picked up the book Red Rising and couldn’t put it down until I finished the trilogy. From the first page “On Mars there’s not much gravity. So you have to pull the feet to break the neck. They let the loved ones do it.” I knew that this book was something special. The series is an epic fantasy that sprinkles in humor and is not afraid to cover darker topics. The story is set on a futuristic Mars where protagonist Darrow rises from the lowest part of society, where the people are called Reds, to infiltrate and eventually overthrow the oppressive Gold upper class. I loved the simplicity of the color caste system to signify roles in society as well as the slang incorporated, such as gorydamn representing a curse word, which helped with the immersion into the world. I hate to use Hunger Games as a comparison because I thought Red Rising was better in every aspect, even as a love story, but the simplest way to describe the first book is Hunger Games in space.
A main part of the book consists of a battle royale called the Passage where the young Gold elite participate in for glory, but the reasoning in Red Rising for this event makes a lot more sense than because poor people wanted food like in Hunger Games. Maybe that’s a little watered down as the Hunger Games were conducted to oppress the other districts, but it still seems like weak motivation. The Passage is conducted to determine who the most promising and talented upcoming leaders in society will be and used as a scouting opportunity for the established Gold rulers. The Passage is a team battle with 50 students divided into different Roman God themed factions instead of a teen death match where alliances were conveniently ended by villains killing their friends. This battle involved strategy and allowed for more complex tactics for survival and victory. How to garner loyalty with your fellow competitors was the most intriguing part of the Passage.
There are solid sobriquets for some characters, like Reaper, Mustang, and Jackal, that aren’t necessarily A Song of Ice and Fire level good, but still enjoyable and help the reader understand the characters by being able to associate characteristics through them. Although Darrow’s overall goal is to overthrow the oppressive society and free his fellow enslaved Reds, in this book it’s clear that the first step towards that goal is to come out #1 in the Passage and gain the apprenticeship of a powerful Gold. From there he can help the rebellion change society from the inside.
The Jackal was hyped a little too much in the first half of the book for what eventually was a small interaction. I understand the motivation to wrap things up quickly towards the end of the first book, but the final battle felt a little too easy and the twist ending felt a little silly. Darrow makes a lot of questionable decisions, which is good. He’s not a perfect protagonist despite having near godlike dexterity and superhuman strength given to him just a year before the Passage started, but that’s what makes him an intriguing and likable protagonist. I still get goosebumps reading about Darrow’s feats and decisions throughout the book.
The 2nd installment wasn’t as strong as the first because it didn’t have a script to stick with akin to the Passage, however, it was still a great sequel and great book overall. This book needed to continue world building because most of the time spent in the first was isolated to a tiny area. There’s also a slight time skip to get events rolling, but I didn’t like how Darrow and Mustang weren’t on good terms or how Darrow mastered dueling offscreen and seemingly out of nowhere. Both make sense from a storytelling perspective, but I wish both happened more organically rather than abruptly. Somehow not being discovered during the lie detector game with the Sovereign when his entire identity is fabricated…Seriously though, as far as sequels go it was everything I could have realistically asked for. The author developed some of the side characters, especially the Jackal. In a world where most characters are depicted as morally gray, the Jackal seems pretty dark gray. Nevertheless I enjoyed him and his relationship with Darrow in this book. The reveal of the mysterious rebellion leader Ares surprised me, but it made sense…despite there being no hints in the first book!
The book was 60 pages longer, but I felt like Golden Son would have benefitted with more pages and wished the author dragged it out a little more. The 2nd book’s final section was the strongest of the series, it had me on the edge of my seat during numerous sections because there were so many different directions that the author could take and I truly didn’t know how it would end and which characters would survive. Especially the penultimate chapter, I thought for sure it was going to go in a much darker direction. The actual ending left me scrambling to start the third book immediately.
It’s a fluid and quick read, like it’s two predecessors, but traits I didn’t appreciate until trying to start another fantasy book series. The pacing and escalation kept me invested in protagonist Darrow’s journey until the final page. We actually go off planet and the characters mature with the responsibilities thrust onto them during the previous books. Sevro’s character in particular took a huge step depth-wise after mostly being Darrow’s loyal dog and comic relief in the previous books. The Obsedian culture was fascinating to learn about, but felt like a lull in the story after such an intense start.
This book was 70 pages longer than it’s predecessor and I still didn’t feel like it was enough! I understand it probably wouldn’t have been possible considering that the previous two books were less than 450 pages, and I’m probably spoiled by A Song of Ice and Fire, but I wanted over 1000 pages! The world seemed so grand, I loved the moon colonies, but they were barely touched upon! The Ash Lord seemed like a character that never reached his full potential and almost felt forgotten about at the end. Many of the battles never gave off the weight of interplanetary battles, in fact every one felt on the same scale as the battles during the Passage. Following a single person’s perspective, especially one constantly in life or death situations, is exciting, but I wish we could have spent more time developing the world and seeing other people’s perspectives, which is something I expect Iron Gold brings.
Darrow’s story is all but wrapped up perfectly, but I’m glad the author decided that he could still do more with the world and Iron Gold will start off a new trilogy. Following the aftermath of the events that took place in the Morning Star 10 years later, Iron Gold will follow 3 additional protagonists and with four pairs of eyes instead of one it should help increase the scope of the world, my main criticism with the Red Rising Trilogy. The book was initially set to be released in mid-October, but Pierce Brown released a statement that he wanted to put more time and dedication to publish a story that will surpass that of the original trilogy. Honestly this is good news, more time means better quality, and it’s not like the author is taking an additional 6 years to publish his next book! My expectations for Iron Gold are…rising every golden morning.