by Pierce Brown
Darrow is a Red, member of the lowest caste in the colour-coded society of the future. Like his fellow Reds, he works all day, believing that he and his people are making the surface of Mars livable for future generations.
Yet he spends his life willing, knowing that his blood and sweat will one day result in a better world for his children. But Darrow and his kind have been betrayed. Soon he discovers that humanity already reached the surface generations ago. Vast cities and sprawling parks spread across the planet. Darrow – and Reds like him – are nothing more than slaves to a decadent ruling class.
Inspired by a longing for justice, and driven by the memory of lost love, Darrow sacrifices everything to infiltrate the legendary Institute, a proving ground for the dominant Gold Cast, where the next generation of humanity’s overlords struggle for power. He will be forced to compete for his life and the very future of civilization against the best and most brutal of Society’s ruling class. there, he will stop at nothing to bring down his enemies … even if it means he has to become one of them to do so.
I remember when this book first came out and the hype around it. Even on the cover it is compared to Ender’s Game and The Hunger Games. I had an interest in reading it but worried that the hype was too much and it wasn’t as good as everyone else claims it to be. So I put it aside and almost forgot about it until I found it at a used book sale for only a couple of bucks.
First off – this book is every bit as good as the critics claimed it to be. Yes, I could see the influences of dystopian life from the Hunger Games and the Ender’s series but it is truly unique in it’s own right. I was constantly surprised by the new reveals as I read, twists and turns, developments and discoveries. Half the time I swear I had my jaw open.
So – let’s start at the beginning. Darrow – a Red, lives underground on Mars with his fellow reds, ruled by the Golds. They live and work under the impression they are paving the way for the future, that they are in a way mining the much-needed gas required to make Mars habitable on the surface. A fantastic lie to maintain the lower masses. Darrow is content to live his life this way, he is young, only 16 or so, already married to the love of his life and childhood friend. However he learns how the system they live by is rigged. There is life on the surface – as shown to him by his wife by finding a secret tunnel. Their little escapade costs them their lives in the end. But That’s only the beginning of the story.
Darrow lives on. Dumped in an unknown mining shaft, his is rescued by a group of rebel Reds who have a particular job for him. To infiltrate and gain ranks among the Gold Caste. It is an impossible task, but Darrow shows an intelligence and understanding beyond his low-cast status. With help from a Carver, Darrow’s body is literally altered and replaced into Gold standards. His documents are forged and through the rebels plans manage to place him into the Institute – an academy like school designed to prepare the next generation of Golds into positions of power.
From there, we begin to learn more about the colour-caste system, what each are responsible for and the power the Golds have over others. We also learn that Mars is not the only planet transformed by the lower Reds, but much of the galaxy planets. I will admit, it’s a bit complicated, but exciting as we see Darrow pass the tests and get deeper and deeper into the power system within the Golds. Entering the Institute, he is placed into a ‘House’, based upon the ancient Roman Gods. Many of the Gold’s names seemed to be taken in respect to the ancient Roman Empire and past historical strengths.
This is the interesting part of the book – and takes up the rest of the book. Instead of an academic school with classes, the Institute splits the qualified applicants into their Houses, and they undergo a ‘Passage’ – pairing each student up with another and them having to literally kill the other to gain entrance into their school house. Every Gold from this point on has killed. None are innocent any longer. Out of a hundred students per house only fifty move forward. Of those fifty, they are given the task to conquer the other Houses and make them their slaves.
It is an interesting development, how they teach the next generation why the Golds are worthy of ruling the galaxy by having them experience what their ancestors did first hand. Death is a constant, even though there are the Proctor guiding their students and sending Medbots out to save as many Gold’s lives as possible. They start with not even the basics, having to learn and improvise weapons and fire in order to survive.
Darrow is placed into House Mars – the wolves in the highlands. There is internal power struggles that tear their own house apart – even before they could manage to capture slaves of the nearby Houses. You see the struggle in Darrow’s mind as he works out problem by problem, going beyond what the Proctor’s think of as possible.
I don’t want to tell you too much more, from here on out there are many twists in the story that may ruin the ending. But it is evident the lessons Darrow learn in here that will be useful to his long-goal mission with rebelling the lower colours against the gold. I will say that as much as I enjoyed reading about the Institute and the importance of it all, I was disappointed that it ended before we see Darrow go into his next phase and even the rebellion stage that by now we are all looking forward to. Thankfully – after a quick search to the official website there are two other books in the series!
For those who enjoy a good sci-fi, I highly recommend this book if you have not already read it. I was pleasantly surprised and entertained throughout the book and will make sure to keep my eye out for the two others in the series. There is still much for Darrow to accomplish and learn and I can’t wait to find out what happens next!