Red Rising

Pierce Brown

It’s easy to read the first book in the Red Rising series and dismiss it as “just another hunger games”. It feels very similar; a young man named Darrow lives a harsh, totalitarian society built around slavery ruled by the higher, elite classes of which he is told he will never be a part of. He is born into the “red” caste of mining workers on Mars. He’s constantly bullied by the police and the petty local magistrates. The love of his life is killed by these men for her resistance to their demands of subjugation.

In his anger, he has someone remake him into a “gold”. This caste of people are the leaders, the politicians, the warrior/military class. They are behemoths of men with glowing gold eyes heavily modified through technology and genetic evolution as the superior race; their cruelty and exhibition of power over the other castes in their use them as fodder for their desires is unmatched.

Darrow takes on this identity and enters the gold’s academy to learn their powers and to gain allies. This is where the similarities to the Hunger Games really emerge, as the academy is just a big game of survival where the children in training are dumped in a territory with castles and forests and very little supplies or tech where they are forced to use their will and cunning to survive. There are no real enforced ethics overarching laws, and groups form to attack, assault and backstab each other to strive to win the title of the king of the hill and leader of all.

The first 3 books in the series follow Darrow and his infiltration and later revolution of the political social structure of his time. He amasses an army through his connections and leads an overthrow of the “Sovereign”, the supreme leader of the planets.

Pierce Brown is an outstanding writer; this is especially the case when it comes to the action scenes. In a later book in the series, Dark Age, the entire first part of around 150 pages is an incredibly detailed and thrilling description of a series of battles and high tech warfare. His use of futuristic technology makes it that much more interesting. GravBoots allow the wearers to fly through the skies and slice through their opponents as they rain onto them; razors are ancient weapons similar to lightsabers but fluid enough to shift their form and change into spears, whips, or other weapons on command. His description of the action and the martial arts the characters employ against each other is addictive; I don’t think I’ve read an action series as well written as this one. Yet all the while he still manages to show the horror and despair that war and violence itself brings instead of glorifying it or praising it.


Darrow fights his war throughout the first 3 books to seek his revenge for his dead lover and to free society; he claims to want to “break the chains” in society. Indeed, he does so. But when he finally reaches this goal, the fighting for him never really stops. Despite him losing countless numbers of close friends and allies along the way, and despite having a beautiful wife and son at home that he could be spending time with, war constantly calls him back. There is always a new foe, a new threat, a neverending series of battles and destruction.

Is the lesson here that war begets war? Maybe specifically that those who seek the political “ring of power” cannot hold it once they get it, as more and more just attempt to seize it again once it is acquired by the “good” guys? Indeed, in the later books in the series taking place after the revolution, the story turns more towards society building and maintaining. The newly formed Senate, the so-called democratic implementation of the will of the people, forbids Darrow from going off to fight a foe that he has claimed is amassing his forces to crush them and seize the tyrannical power of the Sovereign back and to put the chains back on society.

Darrow, of course, being the rebellious beast he is, takes no heed of this order and goes to fight anyway with a ragtag group of soldiers in order to disarm the threat. But that’s the thing: there’s always a threat in these books. Once he stops this one, there’s another and another. An unending campaign of monsters is paraded by for Darrow to slay, and what’s sad is that he continues to think: when I finish this mission, I’ll spend time with my family. It’s always on the horizon. But this dream of peace an calm never really comes true.

His closest ally, Sevro, chooses later in the books to see his family more. Indeed, this gets him in trouble in their clandestine mission to sneak away from the Senate’s orders: Sevro convinces Darrow to say goodbye to their families, and the authorities find them there and try to arrest them. Darrow thinks: if only we just abandoned our families, we could have left without problems, but for Sevro family is too important to risk not saying goodbye.

Darrow also chooses some pretty questionable ethical paths in his never ending quest to fight war in order to end war (somehow). He deceptively blows up a civilian dock with an incredible amount of wealth and production value because he had captured an enemy ship and was able to blame his attack on them; this is called a false flag manipulation. This promoted his short term gains of turning public opinion against the enemy, but his lies certainly came back to bite him later. This begs the question, is his push for more violence against his enemies merely the reason why there are so many enemies in the first place? He certainly doesn’t make many friends with this move nor with many other actions he takes in the series despite being loved by the masses.

This callous move hearkens back to the history and lore of the race of golds: they became the superior race when they attacked and desecrated earth or when they performed a similar action to Darrow by destroying an entire planet to achieve their military ends: the planet had been resisting their rule and was rebelling. Their cruelty just paved the way for more violence and cruelty.

Lysander, a character in the later books, gets his first glimpse of true war in Dark Age. Having trained for it all his life, he is wholly unprepared for the terror and chaos and horror that awaits him in war. Men blown up, bloodied, here one moment and gone the next, is just too much for him. It breaks him. His presuppositions from all his academic training and the propaganda fed to him by his family/trainers are decimated in a moment’s time of actual experience. This grimy truth about the underbelly of war is seldom talked about, much less with such an incredibly intense emotional and physical portrayal here by Brown.

There is a weird dichotomy about these books: the pages of violence and war are incredibly written page turners that keep you glued to the book, while at the same time the horror and inner/outer destruction of the same violence is brilliantly portrayed. It’s a beautiful symmetry that I haven’t quite found done as well in modern fiction.


The State has a large presence in this series. It is ever present in it’s militaristic form in almost every page, but the later books speak a lot specifically about the politicians and lawmakers. There are 3 main factions in the new Senate: the war party backing Darrow, the “people’s party” who are presumably the left leaning socialists, and the Obsidians who seem to just want to be left alone.

Correction: the Obsidians want to force their way onto land and seize it in order to rule over it themselves, and only then to be left alone. A race of giants not culpable to cold/icy environments, they had been enslaved and force fed propaganda about the golds being “gods” and were forced to serve them in their brutal wars for many generations before the books happened. No wonder they are a little aggressive.

The people’s party later leads a coupe and works a crowd of civilians and mobsters up into a frenzy, and then they use their corrupted palace guard to open the floodgates on a hapless, surprised Senate. Heads roll, literally, in the “people’s” quest for political power over others.

The first 3 books also show the danger of the State and of the violent revolution that Darrow fights. The Sovereign is an all powerful tyrant and controls all human behavior; she makes slaves out of the various castes. Darrow’s original interaction with his local governor of Mars killing his lover is enough to feed his rage against the State; his later battles after the revolution are all against those who want to seize the power of the State and reimpose it’s slavery on the castes. The reds are to be again the slaves working in the mines, the pinks are the official prostitutes, the greys are the domestic enforcers that make sure the slavery all continues without a bump in the road. What a world.

Darrow fights against this corrupted power, but how many millions are harmed in his assaults? The book alludes to an immense body count in his revolution, inevitably many of them are innocents, as many are very upset at him after the fact despite his heroic announcement of “breaking their chains”. In fact, many people find that their newly found freedom only brings about more misery as the politicians fail to protect them and they are murdered en-masse by roving, criminal gangs.

This is the inherent danger of violent revolution: innocents are harmed, enemies are made, and generally someone seizes the power of the State afterwards (usually the victorious military group).

Free Markets

There are not many references to truly free markets to speak of in these books, I’m afraid. I’m sure it’s there somewhere in the background given that they have this incredible technology, but the slavery alone of the reds harvesting the needed fuel and gasses to power their devices alone does not bode well for a purely economical examination of this book series. Slavery is impossibly inefficient and uneconomical; it hinders innovation and stunts economic growth. This is not even to speak of it’s unethical nature and the terribly violent means necessary in enforcing it. There’s simply no way that a complex, technologically advanced society could emerge that revolves as heavily around slavery, war, and political domination as the Core does.

This type of system could only make sense IF there was a strong free market structure that developed and was then taken over by politics after it had created all it’s wealth and capital structure. Remember, governments can only seize what wealth currently exists in a society; they are very bad if they are capable at all at generating new wealth.

We do get some glimpses throughout the book of markets and money and trade, however: Quicksilver, one of the richest men in the galaxy, generally berates bureaucratic meddling and thieves. He bemoans how much more he could produce and faster without all the rules and dictates they hoist on him. He is constantly trying to make contracts, trade with others, and bring discussions and meetings to a world where it seems like the only solution is violence. No wonder he’s rich.

It is shown later that Quicksilver positioned himself as a military contractor and war profiteer, however. This is decidedly not a free market activity, as engaging in contracts with the State to supply it with weapons and power for it’s wars of destruction is frankly anti-libertarian. The book mentions that he was rich before he went after war profits, however, and it’s alluded to by his composure that he engaged in exchange and trade to earn that initial money.

There is one particular situation in which Quicksilver shows himself to be a hard-nosed, libertarian, anti-state, capitalist, however. When they were complaining about how the new democracy formed after the revolution had turned into a socialist lunacy which seeks to raise taxes or gut the military funding, Quicksilver says:

“Government is bad for the people. More regulations are bad for the people. You raise taxes, I have to raise prices, and little people get crushed.”

Truer words have seldom been said. Audentes Fortuna Juvat.

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