So, this week’s Gabbing Geek podcast (trademarked and copyrighted by Jimmy Impossible in a sudden coup d’etat) largely covered the first two (and only existing) novels in the Red Rising trilogy. Since I now write for these fine, if geeky, folks, I will now instead of writing my usual e-mail just post directly to their website.
Below the cut, there may be SPOILERS. Or there may not be, but what do I know?
While I did enjoy the first two novels, Red Rising and Golden Son, I am not certain I enjoyed them as much as Ryan did. Much of the set-up there seemed to be cribbed from other distopian settings.
The propaganda being told by a beloved government figure? Nineteen Eighty-Four.
The social status and employment opportunities chosen by birth? That’s the various letter statuses of Brave New World, swapping out the letters for the color scheme.
The massive contest to see who leads among the young, being played out as entertainment for others, as seen in the first novel? That sure sounds like The Hunger Games to me.
What makes this book a bit different from those is what makes it special. Winston Smith in Nineteen Eighty-Four speculates that if there is to be a change, then it must come from the proles, the working class people at the very bottom of the ladder. O’Brien, representative for Big Brother, assures him later that the proles are far too pacified to ever do anything about rising up and fixing the system. This comes largely from author George Orwell, seeing he was writing his book as an attack on Stalinism, seeing that particular system as one that would never fall. History has thankfully proven Orwell wrong on this point, but what we have in Red Rising is a prole, Darrow, doing the very thing O’Brien assumed impossible, and the ArchGovernor sounds very much like an O’Brien at the end of the second book when he finally explains his morality to Darrow.
That actually is one of the bigger advantages to Red Rising. None of the characters are expressly all good or all evil. Even Darrow’s beloved wife Eo had another side, just not one Darrow ever saw. When visiting his mother, we learn Darrow’s mom didn’t care for Darrow’s wife. Mama Darrow felt that Eo was someone who was going to push Darrow into doing something foolish that might get him killed…hey, she was kinda right!
Furthermore, Mama Darrow raised a very good point. She questioned whether or not Darrow even knew what could fix things. Even giving the LowReds the opportunity to leave, she points out that many of the LowReds would probably stay in the mines. Darrow realizes he really doesn’t have any answers to fix things.
I think that’s the important point going forward. Darrow’s plans to get ahead are something he seems to be making up as he goes along. He seems to know it will involve him becoming the Sovereign at some point, but that’s about it. He knows the class system is wrong, and this is how he gains power. Even when Augustus asks him if he is a demokrat, the answer is Darrow is but hasn’t really realized it yet. In Darrow’s world, ability is rewarded. It doesn’t matter who a person was born to. All that matters is what a person can do. And as we have seen, it is not just the Golds who hold this attitude. When Darrow captures the Sovereign’s ship, the Blues onboard hold the same attitudes towards themselves. The fact that even the Reds have highs and lows suggest that even within all the different colors there are levels of hierarchy. Even the Obsidians hold this with the Stained being the elite among them.
Another strength of the series may be that, despite the rather Hunger Game-esque game for the first book, the series is not doing the Katniss-type hero. Katniss is a fine hero for her own series, but she is often used by everyone for their own purposes. Her only real goal is survival, and the further survival of a growing list of loved ones. Darrow too wants to survive, but he causes upheavals, including whole wars, just to move towards a more nebulous goal. Katniss did not enter the Hunger Games determined to bring down the Snow regime. She somehow managed to do that anyway. Darrow knows what he has to do. But Darrow’s life is complicated by the fact that, unlike Katniss, he gets to know and even likes many of those who would oppose his plans. Not counting falling for Mustang, Darrow learns many Golds are actually decent people. Even if all of Darrow’s plans would succeed, what would happen to people like Roque or Mustang? Darrow himself considers that Mustang represents the best of the Golds, what the Golds were supposed to be, while her twin the Jackal is more of what many actually are.
Further suggesting the Jackal is Darrow’s mirror image, consider his activities are considered beneath the Golds. He seems more like a Silver. Darrow is posing above his status, the Jackal below.
But on the subject of Darrow’s morality, he seems to be a lot more moral than most others around him, even better than Eo if Mama Darrow’s assessment is accurate. Darrow regrets most of the lives he takes, especially the LowColors. There seems to be little regret from any of the other Golds on this end of things. Considering the Golds set up schools with the express purpose of killing off the “weak” then I’d say its a safe bet taking lives isn’t as much of an issue for them. Darrow is a liar, but he’s making amends.
In many ways, Darrow offers the same thing in the scene with Ragnar in the freezer that the Justice League does. The League, and superheroes in general, don’t topple dictatorships. They allow people freedom of choice, and the forces they oppose are generally those who would not allow for such a basic freedom. Humans can make their own decisions. Aliens should not be allowed to interfere. Save lives, and preserve freedom of choice. That is one of the key things Darrow, and Superman, offer.
Finally, Darrow has one basic skill that is overlooked by most: he brings out the best in people. People who spend time with Darrow actively want to be better people in many cases. Even lost souls like Tactus seem more inclined to be more like Darrow, but just don’t know how. If an old timer like Lorn can see that things can be different and better, then there may be hope for the entire Empire…provided Darrow lives that long.
Since he is the narrator, I’d say the chances of his surviving long enough are fairly high.