Red Rising by Pierce Brown.
Post by Jenni.
So much wisdom in a racing YA novel full of adventure and excitement!
The thing that impresses me most about this apparently debut novel is the attention to characterisation, plot, moral universe and writing. I love that Pierce refuses to have Captain America as the leader we follow: Darrow is a reluctant, conflicted hero, happy with his life, drafted into his role to infiltrate the Government of Mars in order to destroy them not by anger, not purely by revenge, indeed not by his own wishes, but by the manipulation of his more fast-thinking wife, who forces him into insurgency by an act of open rebellion designed to make him wake up from the dream of belief in a noble cause and a just society that he has been swallowing all his life.
And this makes him conflicted towards her, knowing he has been manipulated into radicalism by her. Once or twice in the thick of the game, he miscalculates and makes crucial mistakes through which he learns and becomes more complex. He berates himself when he is overcome by anger and sees the dehumanising influence of anger and ambition in himself, so he rebuilds himself to see the virtue in others, trust them, and eventually love them. Darrow’s love of his deluded life as a loyal civilian plausibly leads him to the understanding that savagery does not make a leader – a social structure needs to be conceived of and desired first, and then achieved, for success to be lasting.
To be honest, I’m not a big fan of endless battle scenes and games with stacked playing fields – I think three installations of the The Hunger Games cured many of us of that – and I almost considered skipping the Games narrative in Red Rising because I didn’t want to revisit all that blow by blow testosterone filled combat, pain and suffering for the amusement of an elite who stacked the odds in their favour. But I’m so glad I didn’t skip the games – partly because it’s three quarters of the book, but mostly because Pierce offers some truly insightful thoughts into the nature of justice and revenge. Darrow begins to see himself as more, he learns that justice must be meted coolly and not in anger – it must not be revenge – it needs to be dispassionate and if you give in to vengeance then you have failed a test. That loyal lasting leadership cannot be built on violence and fear – it must rest on the foundation of respect, love and civility or it will fail. That loyalty will not necessarily be commanded by the most deserving. That a life lived as an instrument – of vengeance, of self serving power, of lust or anger, is also doomed to failure. As Mustang says on p 266: “we must live for more” and Darrow adds ‘ Live for more. More than power, more than vengeance. More than what we are given”.
Darrow knows he is not the most beautiful, the smartest, not the strongest in the army he eventually commands (a fact he announces to them all), so he learns to lead through courage, respect and consultation, whilst he develops a more nuanced view than that of his enemy, and even his supporters and creators. He articulates that success is a random thing often granted to the undeserving for irrelevant reasons – beauty, luck, birth. Further, he sees that good luck granted to the unapproved person can become misfortune, and that it will be thwarted.
Darrow begins to see that he can not merely be an arrow of revenge, that he cannot reduce all those around him to obstructions in his path, or tools for towards his own ambitions; he must evolve and learn from his experiences and the game. He begins to change his paradigm, to sacrifice himself and his image to show compassion, to be willing to make mistakes and show good faith, and to make room for others to learn. He matures into a truly inspirational leader who will not burn out. In this respect, Pierce manages, at least in book one of this Trilogy, to give me faith that he will transcend the self destructive nihilism that Katniss and Triss (from Divergent ) fall into by the end of their trilogies – Pierce has more imagination, more potential and more wisdom than Suzanne Collins and Veronica Roth. And his work therefore walks a much less trammelled path, and has so much more to offer to teens than theirs. A vision of true, lasting leadership and of a future.