The blood-lust is strong in Pierce Brown’s Red Rising but I am bravely soldiering on.
“Part 1: Slave” (thoughts here) was so bleak that to be honest, I was dragging my feet to continue reading. But, I’m glad I didn’t drop off. “Part 2: Reborn” is just as harsh but now that Darrow has hit rock bottom he has nothing more to lose. The only choice is to claw his way up again.
Things always get so much more exciting when the underdog sneaks his way into the lair of the dragon and messes everything up.
Like Neo leaving his slave-of-a-life inside the Matrix behind, Darrow’s left his old life of delusion behind and he is ready to see the truth. To work “outside the system”.
After Red gets dumped into the pits of hell both physically and emotionally, we see him re-invent his identity and literally get a whole new body with the help of Dancer, Harmony, Matteo and Mickey.
Darrow continues to prove he is different than other Reds—that he can think outside the box, that he does not have a mind easily resigned to the fate given to him. Dancer gives him a test to choose between two face down cards. If he chooses a scythe card, he wins. If he chooses a lamb card, he loses. 50/50, right? But, Darrow never leaves his fate up to luck. With a bit of quick thinking, he passes the test easily. And more importantly, lets Dancer know he can pretend to be a lamb while hiding a scythe. It’s all a very clever scene!
There is a discussion about different “purposes” each individual can have in a movement for rebellion:
“Dreamers like your wife are limited…The only power they have is in death. The harder they die, the louder their voice, the deeper the echoes. But your wife served her purpose.”
“Then what is your purpose?”
“The same as yours, little Helldiver. To make the dream come true.”
And later, in Dancer’s own words:
“We…are dirty. We are made for blood. Rough hands. Dirty hearts. We are lesser creatures in the grand scheme of things, but without us men of war, no one except those of Lykos would hear Eo’s song. Without our rough hands, the dreams of the pure hearts would never be built.”
A powerful rebellion has dreamers and dream-makers—those that keep the vision of the rebellion pure and those that do the dirty work behind the scenes to sell the story.
We get introduced to life above-ground: a decadent Mars where each caste of color is restricted in their own ways, with the golden Aureates at the top enjoying the most freedoms and luxuries.
And now the fascinating scenes where Mickey, a Violet and a creative, carves a new body to host Darrow’s vengeful soul. And it’s not going to be just any body—it’s going to be one of iron gold. A body with bone density 5x stronger than naturally occurring bone of Earth: a physique sculpted to dominate. Darrow’s going to get his scars removed, new eyes implanted, and his mind filled with knowledge only Aureates would have the luxury to have.
When Darrow is ready, he takes the mental and physical tests all young Golds need to take to gain admission into the one of the deepest strongholds of the Aureates: the Institute. The plan is to graduate from the Institute as a Peerless Scarred, the most elite members of Aureate society. A title bestowed only on the most cunning, clever, and physically apt—“the peak of the human pyramid.” A title that is not even given just because you were born as a Gold, but because you earned it and proved you were worthy of being a master race. Ironically, this is exactly how Darrow will infiltrate the ranks.
And here’s where the story starts sounding like Hogwarts is hosting the Hunger Games.
Darrow’s performance on the admissions test will determine which “family” he is sorted into. Will it be House Jupiter who favors “girls and boys of unnatural beauty and physical prowess”? Will it be House Mercury who selects those that are quick-witted and clever? Or House Mars, house of the warriors…the killers…house of the Rage Knight?
He strategically befriends a bunch of Aureates from the cream of the crop. Cassius, hot-headed, ambitious—the epitome of Aureate arrogance. Antonia, suspicious, clever, contemptuous. Why does it feel like Darrow is befriending members of Slytherin House?
And then the last chapter of this section. Shocking. Brutal. Effective. Darrow becomes “Darwin’s scythe” and makes a face into a blood blossom. It’s time for the real games to begin.
I’m horrified, but like a spectator at a gladiator ring, I see Darrow poised to give the Aureates the most epic of middle fingers and I am riveted.