SPOILERS GALORE 😀
Red Rising is savagery and elegance. It’s mesmerizing just as it’s repulsive. It calls upon the bloodlust from the primitive parts of your DNA but at the same time, it curdles the blood with its barbarism.
The Golds entering the Institute are young and untested. They have obeyed the rules and killed to gain entrance but that only makes them “babystranglers”. The Institute claims that once these “babies” go through the system, they will become “smart, cruel, wise, hard.” And if they survive, they might just earn apprenticeships with the most powerful Aureates. Darrow has already lived more of manhood than any of the contestants. But is he as cold and ruthless as those raised in the Aureate way? Or do the depths of his anger fuel a brutality far exceeding anything the Aureates have ever seen?
In part 3: Gold, we see Darrow transform into the monster he was meant to fight. In order to defeat the monster, one must learn its strengths and weaknesses. One must understand the soul that drives it. One may, ultimately, befriend the monster…become the monster. In fact, the monster was in Darrow all along. Could he be no better than the gold-veined killers around him? The gold-veined killers the Peerless Scarred cultivate through the Institute?
Their Proctor, Fitchner, leaves them in the vast valley that is to be their slaying ground, with instructions that they are to conquer and enslave the other houses and protect their standard. The moment Fitchner leaves to join the other proctors on “Mount Olympus”, the House of Mars fragments. The brute Titus and the conniving Antonia each assert their separate bids for dominance against Darrow and Cassius’s allegiance while little goblin Sevros melts away into the wolf-ridden valley. Darrow and Cassius take their food and fire and leave the fortress of Mars, leaving the tyrannical Titus to rule over the sick and starving.
Roque the poet of the bunch asks the question: “Would it be worse to have Titus in power and have Mars strong or for Darrow to be in power with Mars weak?”
Darrow and Cassius pass the first test of ruthlessness, choosing to allow savagery to descend rather than bring civility to the House of Mars. Besides, Titus has long since cut loose the monster in him and let it out to play. On the twenty-first morning, Titus orchestrates the first death of the game. The lack of punishment from the Proctors in return is a silent sanction of this vile act.
Upon hearing that Titus might be torturing and raping his slaves, Cassius insists that he and Darrow must act. Must return civility to the game. Titus is breaking the rules! Aureates should never tolerate such barbarism! He must be punished. But in the end, it is Cassius that is punished. Cassius must learn that there are no rules to the game. He is beaten, mutilated, and humiliated by Titus.
Cassius’s vision is too grand, Darrow’s too small. And House of Mars continues to suffer.
Darrow and Cassius meet a beautiful, clever Mustang from House Minerva. She is still pure. She still plays the game according to the rules. She does not cross the limits. She has not seen the sickness of Mars. But the sickness is the brutal truth of the world. And all who shut their eyes against it are only lying to themselves. Darrow and Cassius make sure she learns this harsh lesson. While Mustang is busy taking down House of Mars, they sneak into House Minerva and steal their standard.
“Gold is a cold metal,” Antonia tells her. Mustang and her high ideals make her only a little girl in their eyes. There is no room in the valley for honor and righteousness and protection of the weak. When Darrow looks at Mustang, he only sees the hypocrisy of Aureate society.
No Gold ever protected the Reds. There is never justice for the Reds.
He tells her: “There are no Golds here. I’m a Red. You’re a Red. We are all Reds till one of us gets enough power. Then we get rights. Then we make our own law…That is the point of all this. To make you terrified of the world where you do not rule. Security and justice aren’t given. They are made by the strong.”
In return, Mustang only begs them to “hurry up and evolve.”
Later, Darrow looks into the mirror-that-is-Titus to see his future self if he lets the monster of vengeance consume him. Titus is a Red. A Red that can only see red, can only see the color of his caste. He plays his role just as the Golds expected him to. He is just as trapped as the Golds he tortures. Titus must die so that Darrow may take his place as Prime of House Mars. But, the death feels dirty and stains Darrow irreparably.
Darrow becomes only marginally less tyrannical of a ruler for House of Mars. They either fear or resent him. There is discontent. But Darrow continues to snarl in the face of it. He leads House of Mars to its first glory—taking House Minerva and then House Diana through bold and clever tactics that dance around the rules of engagement.
At what feels like the height of his triumph in the game, Darrow can see the ugliness in humanity in its rawest state. And he reads it in the faces of the others. But, now he sees it in himself. He is no better than the rest of them.
And then the Jackal of House Pluto lances the infected wound in Darrow, drains him of the pus suffocating the roots of his spirit until there is almost nothing left. The hole in the gut as the ionSword slices through reminds him that in the end, all bleed red. In the end, he is still a Red.
In the end, he was still playing the Institute’s game.
In the end, he played it so well, he was given the destiny of death. A sacrifice made to make another a god.
Will he accept his fate? Or will he rise up and make the game his own? Will he become something more devastating, more beautiful, more powerful than the iron gold Gods of the game?
I eagerly await Darrow’s deliverance from the Gods of Mount Olympus.