by Pierce Brown
15/25 (60%) 3 stars.
Lots of good ideas, some wasted potential, an interesting Panemesque setting on Mars, but too much bad writing, Sevro ex machina and Darrow Stu for my taste – still, this series looks promising.
So, this is a mixture of sci-fi and ya-fantasy. Basically, it’s a dystopy that places The Hunger Games on Mars. The thing is: Brown’s writing isn’t as good as Suzanne Collins’s writing in any way. Yes, the plot as a whole is intriguing. Yes, this thing is a pageturner. Yes, it has a strong part at around the 60-80% mark. But in my most humble opinion, that’s it. Let’s do this the Sandersonian Academy Way, shall we? So: promise, payoff, progress.
The promise didn’t work, because I wasn’t shocked about what happens at the end of part one.
The payoff didn’t work because the promise kept changing.
The progress was okay, but oftentimes too easy for Darrow.
Brown delivers the dystopian setting concincingly: humans have started colonizing Mars. Humans have also formed castes with the Golds at the top and the Reds at the bottom: of course our hero, Darrow, belongs to the Reds. The Reds are exploited by the Golds, they don’t have enough food, their life is shit, you get the gist. All very sad. Of course, someone has to be their Mockingbird, and suprise, our protagonist is that Mockingbird.
Let’s start with the bad stuff:
Is Darrow as concincing a Mockingbird as Katniss is? HELL, NO! Darrow is the garystuest Gary Stu you can imagine. He’s so talented at everything, he’s so super clever, he’s never failing at anything. The thing that makes Katniss believable is that she’s good at precisely one thing: archery. She has spent years of her life hunting to feed her family which is why she has that ability. That’s all she’s good at. She only becomes the icon of the revolution because other people use her. And Darrow? Can do everything, thank you very much.
Also, the motivation. Our hero doesn’t only need a general motive to topple the unjust government and society, no, he needs a personal motive. Katniss’s motive is to protect her little sister whom she has essentially raised as a surrogate mother – that works. It works, because Suzanne Collins establishes their close relationship by showing, not telling. And Darrow? Darrow also gets a strong personal motive after 42 pages – much too soon. The Golds take something from him which turns him into revolutionary mode – and for me, that motivation never worked because in my opinion, we don’t see that motivation. Because we don’t spend enough time with what they take from him, and because it’s all telling instead of showing. Not well done, didn’t work for me.
Then, of course, Darrow tries to infiltrate the Gold’s command school (not a spoiler, it’s in the synopsis). In order to achieve that, he gets a complete makeover. He becomes a Gold. And while I may buy that whole surgery thing that enhances his physical abilities, I don’t buy that he aces that whole educational part. He’s too clever. Darrow can literally do anyting. So he didn’t work for me. Oh, and if he actually fails at something, say, gets in a tight spot? There’s always Sevro to save them. But what if he gets injured? Say, stabbed? Oh, he survives, don’t worry. The wound may be mortal, but Darrow doesn’t die. So? NO FRIGGIN STAKES AT ALL! You can write this thing as high stakes as possible, you can construct that nice dystopy thing where the hero has to save all the Reds and topple the Golds a million times – if your protagonist is a Gary Stu, it doesn’t work! It just doesn’t! If I don’t have to be afraid for the protagonist at all, there are no stakes for me. And if you don’t feel the stakes, then this book doesn’t work for you.
Also, the writing. As I said: lots of telling instead of showing. The dialogues are sometimes cringy, sometimes too artificially quotable. They just don’t feel natural to me. Also, Brown tends to use lots of very short sentences which is something I don’t enjoy at all. Something else I don’t enjoy at all are those artifical word constructs, like slingBlade, ArchGovernor, recoilArmor. I’m a grammar nazi. When I see that stuff, I get aggressive.
Last point of critique: Brown apparently can’t decide who these people are. At one moment, they kill each other off without second thought, and then they worry about their pimples. You can’t have it both ways: choose one of them, for God’s sake. Either they’re murderous psychos or nervous teenagers, but they’re not both at once. That ruins the pacing.
So much for the bad stuff. Let’s come to the good stuff: I liked the general concept. I think it shows promise and I’m interested to find out how Darrow will deal with this whole structure of society after the Battle Royale part. I also liked the dynamics and chemistry between most of these characters. And while I found the writing to be below average, this still was a pageturner. That whole competition at the Institute reminded me of An Ember in the Ashes in a way, but the thing is that Red Rising already has most of my pet peeves that made me dislike the rest of the Ember Quartet already – which is not a good sign. Still, the setting gives me hope that this series will improve after this.
Writing Style 2
by Pierce Brown