Darrow is a Red mining on Mars for the future of humanity. But when his wife sacrifices herself his worldview is shattered as he realises his people are slaves to the grandeur and luxury of the already-built Gold empire on Mars and beyond. The resistance movement saves his life then channel his anger to turn him into a Gold, sending him to the illustrious Institute which turns out to contain a year-long bloody battle of the Roman god inspired Houses, with the mandate to overthrow the system.
Though many (okay, most) elements of the world set-up and plot are familiar this book is gripping, pacy and thrilling as it races through a big, emotion and action-packed plot stuffed with intense characters, intriguing situations and a multi-layered world. I dashed through it in just two days.
Darrow is our narrator, and we gradually accustom ourselves to his world as he realises that it is totally different to what he thought; frequently left to made mind-leaps as to what some referenced piece of technology might be. For the first chapter or so the narrative voice was jarring; often a series of short statements elucidating his thoughts, but I got used to it as I got pulled into the plot.
As a hero, Darrow is interesting; reluctant, and seemingly operates from other people’s ideals. We could perhaps have done with some more character development; despite latent anger and rage his actions seem strange – but perhaps typical for a 17-year-old boy.
I’ll certainly be reading the next two books of the series; I am interested as always to see how the plot will scale: how we start from finishing a school year to overthrowing the whole governing system and world. I am hoping for more character complexity as Darrow realises that Golds are people too; and perhaps gets drawn into their mindset – and forms some of his own opinions. This was maybe present in this book; though I wasn’t clear if it was just an absence of Darrow raving about being a Red.
The popularity of this kind of book for teens is intriguing. I suppose the ideals of rebelling teenagers vs adult supremacy and of hideous cruelty and injustice play well upon their subversive bent, and of course the inclusion of some kind of school grounds it well. I know I would have loved it and I’m intending to pass the book on to my 15 year old sister.
The bloody war games are reminiscent of Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games and Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, that and colour ranking of William Nicholson’s The Windsinger Trilogy (which surely should get more attention – it’s better than any of these), and of Jasper Fforde’s Shades of Grey, the way the future was described and the newspeak of Orwell’s1984 and in narrative voice even of Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight.
But nevertheless it remains gripping and readable. It has the feel of (at least trying to be) the Next Big Teen Franchise – the movie is on it’s way. I believe Louisa May Alcott said; “Read like a butterfly, write like a bee” (though an internet search ascribes this to Philip Pullman), so it’s not all bad.
But anyway – this is definitely worth a read!
Thanks Bookbridgr and Hodder & Stoughton for the review copy.