Just as a disclaimer: I usually don't like SciFi. Whether it be in movies, books or other media, I just find myself being put off by all the sciencey-technological elements which distract myself from the characters or plot. So when I first picked up Red Rising I wasn't expecting what I found.
Brief Background: Red Rising is set in the future, where humans have been inhabiting other planets in our solar system for 700 years. Society is split into a colour/class system where the colour you are represents not only your personal attributes, but your job, your quality of life, and the societal expectations of you. The Gold class is the ruling elite, who are shown to be cruel, calculating and opportunistic, reinforcing the hierarchical system. The protagonist, Darrow is a Red, a slave who toils beneath the surface of Mars, trying to make it habitable for humans. However when a sudden event transpires which changes his life forever, Darrow is thrown into a world where he is shown he has the capabilities to do much more for his people, and to topple the society from within.
First Impressions: I could not put this book down. I was intrigued when someone told me I would like it because it echoed the Hunger Games, but I'd never expected to find it so enrapturing. If you liked the Hunger Games for the world building, the action and the dystopian future with an oppressive social hierarchy, I think you would like Red Rising. But don't read Red Rising hoping to find a Katniss/Peeta love story - you'll be sorely disappointed.
What I Liked:
1. The setting. During the book, you get thrown between different worlds so fast it's sometimes hard to adapt. But once you get into the swing of things, the intricacy of each of Brown's settings is so incredible you can feel like you're there. There is a focus on world-building here which is different to a lot of the other classic YA dystopians, and the worlds are certainly not cliche in the way that some other novels are. I loved the "arena" style institute and the challenges.
2. Darrow. Of the negative reviews of Red Rising I've read, most are concerned with the infallibility of the main character. I emphatically disagree. Although Darrow is uncharacteristically strong and a natural leader, he is a flawed character. Firstly, his strength and prowess are shown to be partly due to the physical transformation upon him by Mickey, and are thus not exactly his inner attributes. Darrow is shown to be mistrustful of his body at certain times, not knowing exactly how to use his strength which he ultimately grows into. His skills are all attributable - the work in the mines has shown him to be dexterous and quick, and his background has given him an ability to relate to those around him on a peerage level rather than one of superiority. Although he is undeniably quick witted and intelligent, he is also shown to be rash, fueled by anger and retribution, and has deep feelings of guilt which run throughout the novel.
3. Action. Not knowing too much about the novel before going in I was given fantastic twists and turns along the way. Red Rising is definitely fast-paced and is 100% a page turner.
4. Parallels between history and prose. The linkages between communism and capitalism in colour, setting and protagonist could not be clearer. In some ways I think this could probably have been achieved in a more subtle way, but it didn't detract from my appreciation (as a massive history nerd).
What I didn't Like:
1. Occasionally the setting and plot moved too fast for me to get a proper grip on what was happening. Although the fast-paced nature of the book keeps you intrigued, the world-building and unfamiliarity of setting require a deeper and slower approach by the reader which I don't think Brown fully appreciated. It can sometimes feel a bit chaotic.
2. Character building: although Darrow was well rounded in my opinion, other characters, especially those in the latter half of the book weren't satisfactorily explored. I feel like by the end of the book I still didn't know much about Mustang or the Jackel - he popped up very late and despite the mystery surrounding him for a good half of the book, I feel like his actual appearance was somewhat lacklustre and disappointing.