Deep within the bowels of Mars, the youngest Helldiver, Darrow, drills for Helium3 in the hopes of creating a surface on Mars livable for humans. He’s a Red, the lowest class in a society stratified by color. With the encouragement of the Golds in power, propaganda fuels Darrow’s work, and he believes he’s creating a better world for his children. But when his young wife is hanged for believing in something more, Darrow learns that his world is a lie. The other colors of the caste system already live in great cities on Mars, using his family and all Reds as unknowing slaves. Fueled by rage and hate, Darrow sacrifices his former life to infiltrate the Gold Institute in order to become one his enemies.

Part Hunger Games, part Ender’s Game, part The Count of Monte Cristo, the story of Darrow’s revenge against his oppressors is a non-stop page-turning action adventure full of violence. For example, the first test of the Gold Institute is to lock two naked students in a room and not release them until one is dead. Red Rising revels in its own darkness, but the story and the world-building are all solid too. Darrow’s incredible physical transformation into a Gold mirrors his simple quest for vengeance, which becomes more ever complicated the further down the path he travels.

Darrow himself is a reluctant protagonist, but once he passes the threshold of his wife’s death, he throws himself at his new cause. He is the best and youngest Helldiver; he scores the highest on his entrance exams; Golds flock to his self-proclaimed position of authority. Sure, Darrow is honest and earnest and fighting for the greater good, but his character is unequivocally the hero, which doesn’t feel quite balanced to me.

In addition, Darrow’s supporting female characters are minimal, except for his dead wife, early competition in the Institute, and eventual girlfriend, all of which feel like mere devices for Darrow’s character. We’re told all the Gold ladies are just as smart and capable and ferocious at their male counterparts, but few seem to hold any positions of power. Lastly, another character spends a small section of the book raping several girls off-screen. I understand the rapes are to show the depths of the depravity that this society creates, but it is still uncomfortable to read, and of course it’s Darrow that swoops in to save the day (you know, the hero).

Despite my personal feelings on character, Red Rising is a solid page-turning adventure story! Recommended for fans of dystopian scifi!

On Mars there is not much gravity. So you have to pull the feet to break the neck. They let the loved ones do it.