Friday, December 14, 2018

Red Rising - Pierce Brown

Summary: "I live for the dream that my children will be born free," she says.  "That they will be what they like.  That they will own the land their father gave them."
"I live for you," I say sadly.
Eo kisses my cheek.
"Then you must live for more."

Darrow is a Red, a member of the lowest caste in the color-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 willingly 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 caste, where the next generation of humanity's overloads 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.  (Summary from book - Image from goodreads.com)

My Review: I found Red Rising at my local library.  I'm not sure why, but something about the cover made me think it was going to be a crime novel (not my thing) and I almost put it back without even the courtesy of a flap-read when I saw the following quote by author Scott Sigler:

Ender, Katniss, and now Darrow.  

And, just like that, my interest pendulum swung in a completely different direction.

I love Ender's Game and The Hunger Games trilogy.  I cant' explain it.  There is just something about the psychological warfare, fights-to-the-death, shaky alliances, and subjugated people rebelling against their elite oppressors, that must speak to me on a some kind of molecular level. One courtesy flap-read later and I was totally hooked.  This book was going home with me, come hell or high water.

I like that the author embraced the similarities to these other stories right up front, because it would be pretty hard to miss them, especially in regards to The Hunger Games.  The color-coding of Darrow's world is not unlike the various districts of Panem, with different people serving in different capacities.  Both Katniss and Darrow are in their late teens (sixteen and seventeen, respectively) when their stories begin and forced to fight in ways that seem incongruous to their ages.  I could go into more detail, but to do so would spoil a lot of the story.  I will just say that while similarities were evident, I didn't mind them or feel like the story was predictable because of them. In truth, I was too deeply involved with Darrow, his frienemies, and the problems at hand to do much more than note their existence and keep reading.  If anything, I was just excited to have a new story in a genre I love.

Like many futuristic dystopian novels, Red Rising is fairly brutal (see sensitive reader section).  After deciding to join other rebels, Darrow assumes the guise of a Gold, is drafted by House Mars, and must endure a secret trial, the Passage, that will allow him to stay at the Institute and continue their plans to take down the Gold elites.  To his horror, Darrow is shoved into a room with another young man and told that only one may emerge alive and claim their place in the Institute.  He does what must be done. The Passage is only the beginning of the trial.  Darrow and his fellow teammates of House Mars are placed in a terraformed valley with twelve different houses each in their own castle.  They must fight the other houses and win at all costs.

The psychological aspects of this book were fascinating, and Darrow comes up against them all.  How do you fight a war you don't believe in? How do you pretend to be someone you are not? Who can you trust?  How do you become a leader people will follow?  How far is too far in war?  Is it even worth the battle? Who are you really fighting?  The questions keep coming as the story progresses and Darrow learns more about the 'game' he has been forced to play -- of the men and women who watch, meddle, and pretend to keep the rules.  It was easy to get swept up in the injustice of it all and feel as if I had a personal stake in the story -- to feel affection for some, hatred for others, and blindsided and betrayed on a regular basis.  So many feels.

Initially, I wasn't sure if I would like this book but the more I read (and even now as I'm writing this review) the more I like it.  It has given me a wee bit of book hangover, and that's not easy to do. Darrow is (for lack of a better word) a complete bad ass, as are a several other characters I won't name because I don't want to spoil things.  I am fascinated by the world Brown created and I am excited to see more of it and watch Darrow's story progress.  I just hope I like who he becomes. I've already ordered the next book in the Red Rising series, Golden Son.

My Rating:  4.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  This book contains some swearing and plenty of violence. Lots of people get hurt and many are killed in highly unpleasant ways.  If I had to put a rating on it I would say this book is PG-13 for swearing and R for violence if it were acted out on the big screen. There is a little kissing, some innuendo and some discussion of women getting raped.  The rapes are committed but neither seen through the eyes of the protagonist nor graphically described.


Wednesday, December 12, 2018

The Great Cake Mystery - Alexander McCall Smith

Summary: Have you ever said to yourself, wouldn’t it be nice to be a detective? This is the story of an African girl who says just that. Her name is Precious. When a piece of cake goes missing from her classroom, Precious sets out to find the thief. (image and summary from goodreads.com)

My Review: I am a big fan of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency (plus the very short-lived TV show), and every book I read is like a breath of fresh air.  Precious Ramotswe is one of my favorite literary characters of all time, and for good reason.  She is clever, caring, kind, funny, straightforward, and fights for both justice and mercy. She also sits on violent people until they calm down and she can talk sense to them.  See, awesome lady.

So this book was fun because we got to have a little foray into Precious' life as a child, when she first discovered she both wanted to be a detective, and would be good at it.  The story itself is simple and straightforward, but it has all the aspects we get in Smith's series, a mystery, human nature, suspects, Precious' inherent kindness and goodwill, and finally solving the puzzle.  It's perfect for younger fans of the series, and enjoyable for us older fans too.

I like how Smith speaks to the reader at certain aspects of the story, as if he is having a conversation with them, asking if they've ever thought of being a detective, if they ask a lot of questions and notice things others don't.  It draws the young reader into the world and lets them try to solve the mystery as well.  The illustrations throughout are also a fun touch, they do a fine job of illuminating the tale.
 
Any fan of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency should definitely put this on their list, it's a quick read, it's sweet, and it's pure Precious Ramotswe.

My Rating: Four Stars
 
For the sensitive reader: nothing of note

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