For the past two months, I’ve been engrossed in the thrilling reality of the Red Rising book series. I initially picked it up because it was recommended as a novel transporting the Roman Empire into space. As a fan of Roman history and mythology, as well as a sci-fi enthusiast, I was sure it would make for an exciting ride.
The scale of the story is monumental. It takes place in the Solar System Empire that is based on draconian hierarchy. The sovereign and her council at the top, followed by thirteen social classes divided so fiercely that there is neither a legal or illegal way for anyone to move up – or down – the ladder. So far, so good, a typical totalitarian system. There is a sci-fi twist, however, that I found very clever. Due to the genetic engineering that shaped their society at the dawn of the empire, people of different classes are of different colours. Literally. The elite have golden hair and yellow eyes, and are called the Golds, the slaves, called the Reds, have red hair and red eyes, and there are twelve other colours in between. But there’s more. All the Colours are so genetically different from one another that they are physically incompatible and cannot interbreed.
If the title of the book is anything to go by, you’ve already guessed that the whole series is about a rising of the Red. Slaves against their masters. Calling the Roman Empire back to mind, who but someone like Spartacus could lead such an enterprise? So, yes, someone like Spartacus is at the centre of the story, and we see all the events through his eyes.
The voice of the main character is what makes the book fascinating. It possesses qualities which I otherwise would have thought to be irreconcilable. The whole narrative is in the present tense, sentences are short, sometimes abrupt. This style helps to set a very fast pace for the story. On the other hand, there are enough descriptions to vividly imagine all the scenes, and what’s most important, the character always analyses and judges his actions. I love that: being in someone else’s head, seeing with their eyes. It makes me feel as if it’s happening to me and just transports me into a different universe. I’ll never fight with a sling blade or run a spaceship, but some infantile part of me is happy to indulge itself in this made-up world.
I see this book also as a quest. I know where the hero starts and more or less where he ends, but it’s the journey from point A to B that keeps me on the edge of my seat. How does he do the impossible? How do you ruin an empire and what is it going to be replaced with? We know that revolutions do not end in democracy, but I’m curious to see how the author will go about it.
The author is an American, Pierce Brown, who after several of his novels had been denied publishing, kept on writing and finally had Red Rising released in 2016. Since then he has written four more books in the series, and the last one is to come out soon.