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 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.
My Goodreads rating: 2 stars
I think this may be one of my biggest unpopular opinion posts in a long time. And that really saddens me, because I went into this book hoping (and expecting) to love it. So how come I finished this book after days of slogging through it, and ended up feeling nothing but disappointment and disdain?
There are very few things about this book I liked. Very few. So I’m going to discuss why this book really didn’t live up to its expectations. From the very start, I knew something was up. I loved the premise. A society based on a hierarchy of power, recognised by colour (Red being the lowest), set in space? Sign me up! But I noticed from the get-go that the world-building was laid on HEAVILY. I was so majorly confused; there was so much exposition thrown at us and so many colours and their roles in society, as well as past wars with the Earth and Luna and the rest of the colonies in the Solar System. It was so clunky and hard to follow that I nearly cried. And along with this, I noticed the number one thing I hated about this book. The writing.
The writing is one of the most praised aspects of this book, but I HATED IT. I don’t think I’ve experienced rage while reading a book (that wasn’t intentionally induced) in a long, long time. I don’t mind present tense being used. I don’t mind fancy, flowy language. But the writing style was so robotic, so leaden and dead that I couldn’t bring myself to feel any emotions at all. Not when important characters died. Not when supposedly exciting things happened. The writing is really horrible and contrived but it tries to be deep, you know? It reads like it should be spoken in Middle Earth in LOTR, but this book is supposed to be Dystopian, set in the future, so what’s up with that?
Coupled with the fact that there are so many characters, places, historical events and places thrown in for world-building, it’s enough to drive a person mad. I read a page. I glanced at the clock. An hour later, I checked my progress. I READ LIKE TEN PAGES. I’m not joking. I am not a slow reader, but it was so clunky I had to literally battle my way through this book. I don’t think even the fastest reader would get this done in one sitting. When you make a reader have to reread multiple passages to understand what the heck is going on, you done messed up, son.
The first half of the book was meh. When Darrow joins the plot to infiltrate the Golds, I felt like it was kind of getting somewhere. I was expecting a completely different path, where he would help infiltrate the corrupt Gold society from within by hiding in plain sight, in the city or something. But oh no. What did we get? A weird Hunger Games/Lord of the Flies/Game of Thrones copy/hybrid, on Mars. What? WHAT?
I don’t mind authors having inspiration from other books. But when you blatantly copy the ideas of another author, but set it in space to make it look different, then we have a problem. The whole war games thing? I’ve never seen a bigger copycat in my life. Not only that, but it muddled the genre of the book (is it Dystopian? Sci-fi? Fantasy? WHO KNOWS) as well as took the book down a very strange path. It stopped being about Darrow infiltrating the Golds. It ended up wasting hundreds of pages on bloody war games and Hunger Games-style survival, all to establish the fact that Darrow is absolutely perfect. Unstoppable. Better than everyone. The Messiah. The ultimate Chosen One. You name it.
Speaking of the war games, why the HELL are there GoT-style castles and stuff ON MARS? Like, what? Why even bother setting this book in space at all if the characters are going to run around surviving in Middle Earth-like settings with castles? And the overuse of Roman mythology was ridiculous, it confused me more and messed up the Dystopian genre of this book.
I think the only thing I actually liked is how dark the book was. Despite its weird writing, botched genre and copycat nature, it was ruthless. It didn’t hold back, and there were (brief) instances where I thought “woah, that was intense”. It was dark. In a good way, but still not in the way the book should have been if it had followed the path it was supposed to follow. I mean, come on! You set it on Mars! Apart from some weird tech, you completely threw this book into a weird medieval-type, prehistoric GoT thing. If that was the point, to show how primitive and bloodthirsty this future society of people became, well, it was poorly executed. I just found the whole book ridiculous, over-hyped and disappointing.
The characters were the most redeemable aspect of the book, most of them anyway. I liked Eo, yet the writing didn’t permit me to care too much about her. I likes Mustang and Sevro. The scene with Julian broke my heart. But I feel like the book tried so hard to sell the perfect Gold society, just to throw these characters into the Hunger Games and completely eradicate the whole point. And Darrow? Does that boy have a single thought that makes me believe he’s worth rooting for? I mean, he’s compassionate. He loves Eo. He wants justice. All very admirable traits. But he’s a cookie-cutter protagonist with no personality traits. Except he’s perfect in every way, in a I’m-supposed-to-be-ordinary-type deal. Oh, brother.
Overall, I can’t say that I found this book enjoyable at all. I’m a curious soul, so I’ll read the sequels later in the year. Not too thrilled to be let down like this though; knowing me, I’m probably one of the very few that hated what this book did.
If you completely disagree, let me know! Thanks for reading.