13 December 2016
Book Review: Red Rising
Author: Pierce Brown
Year of publishing: 2014
Publisher: Del Rey (Random House)
Source: I bought this book at a discount price.
So I just finished reading author Pierce Brown's debut novel, Red Rising, and I feel like a bloodydamn fool (that's a term from the book, pun intended) for having committed to this 400 page piece of fiction right in the middle of the super busy exam/holiday season. Yeah, starting such a big project in the midst of all the studying, gift buying, and holiday planning was definitely not one of my smartest moves. I just missed reading books. And I wanted to try something new.
Of course, this project would not have felt like a giant waste of time had I finished the book and said to myself "Wow! This is a very good story! It feels so honest and sincere, and I like all of the characters. This book was definitely worth my time!" Yes, that was sarcasm and I'm not making any attempts at being subtle about it (I'm tired and my head hurts). The truth is, this book has been a major disappointment. Let's move aside the fact that this is yet another YA dystopia, and that oftentimes I got weird flashbacks to the first Hunger Games book, while reading this one, After all, nobody made me read this book, and I brought this on myself.
Yes, there's not enough originality in Red Rising to fill Harry Potter's tiny cupboard under the staircase, and I'm mostly fine with that. Because instead of originality, this book has something that most other YA dystopias do not: science and a world that is built on vast knowledge in the Greek and the Roman mythologies. Brown does not skip research day, and it is very clear that he took great pains in creating a world that feels so huge, and solid, and that has science that somehow resonates with reality. Even The Hunger Games seems silly in comparison with its genetically altered dogs and lizard people.
But enough about the premise. What of the book itself? Well, I have to give credit where credit is due, and Red Rising is a very well-written book. The language is great, the story is captivating at times (though slow as a snail on a slope in some parts), the conflicts are strong, and twists are numerous in amount. By the way, the twists all make sense. This isn't the first The Maze Runner movie, where the twist negates the whole plot and makes no sense. Red Rising is written in a very clever way. So, yes, that's very good. I like that.
Unfortunately, while Brown nails the technical parts, he also makes some mistakes when it comes to characters and the story itself. Oh, how I wish that I could care for any of these characters! Oh, wait, there are two that I like, but one gets killed off and the other turns into a douchebag halfway through the story. So much for that. As for the rest of them, from Darrow, to Mustang and every other kid and adult, I really couldn't care less about what happens to them. They all appear to be colourful and interesting characters, but that's just an illusion. Darrow is a strong leader and he's not the "Gary Stu" some reviewers say he is, as he does have flaws. Lots of them. But he's not very likable. None of the characters are (except for that one who gets killed off). They're okay. They're serviceable. But why should I care about the outcome of the story if I can't empathise with any of the people in it?
The truth is, I was going to give this book a higher rating, if it weren't for one sentence in the author's note at the end, where Brown writes about this series. And he says that, "You're going to bloodydamn love these books."
Oh, no, you didn't!
I haven't been reviewing books for a very long time, and I know practically nothing about the writing/publishing business, but I'm pretty sure that if you're an author then you'll try and stay away from such self-assurance. Never assume anything, especially when it comes to opinions and taste. Had Brown written "I hope you'll enjoy these books", it would have been a whole different story. Yeah, that was a major turn off.
Nevertheless, it made me think back on the book, and I think I'm finally able to pin down what it is that bothers me about it the most. Here it is: this book does not seem sincere. It doesn't feel genuine. The characters do and say everything that I expect them to, and the story unfolds naturally (mostly). But almost every line, almost every sentence, and almost every action is laced with a sense of self-importance. It's as if the author is less concerned with writing from the heart than with trying his damnedest best to impress and bedazzle his readers (now I'm the one making wild assumptions, but that's just the feeling that I'm getting from reading this book). I think I finally understand what the wise men mean when they say that as an author you should write to make yourself happy, and not to impress someone else.
This book is ambitious. Very much so. It's arrogant in its ambitions, and it doesn't feel genuine or sincere. Plus, there are plenty of inconsistencies and plot holes, and sometimes the characters' motivations need a little more explanation, Still, this is an impressive book. The science is impressive. The world-building is impressive. And if this book really is Brown's literary debut, then I applaud him. That's quite an accomplishment. I just wish I hadn't read it now, just before the exams.
Plot: 3 stars
Story: 3 stars
Characters: 3 stars
Writing: 4 stars
Total: 3 stars