Red Rising by Pierce Brown 4 Stars

15839976Title: Red Rising

Author: Pierce Brown

Publication date: January 28, 2014

Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction

Synopsis: Darrow spends his days on Mars mining the minerals needed to terraform the planet’s surface. He could care less about the fact that he is a member of the lowest “caste”, oppressed by the Society. Darrow is too busy trying to provide for his wife and extended family. Darrow knows the price of rebellion. He attended his father’s execution at five years old.

Darrow’s outlook on rebellion changes when another of Darrow’s loved one is killed by the society. Her dying wish: break the chains. Now Darrow will stop at nothing to make her dream a reality. Even if it means infiltrating the Gold, upper-class, society and pretending to be one of his enemies.

Review: Mars is one of my favorite settings. It’s where I set the first novel length manuscript I completed, and I’ve always had a fascination with the planet. So of course, when I saw a book set on Mars with generally good reviews I wanted to read it.

The first fourth or so of this book is very different from the latter three fourths. Based on reading many reviews, what seems to make or break the reading experience is whether the reader likes the path the story takes in the later portion. For me both portions worked. Although the “teenagers in an arena fighting for their lives” and “boarding school” tropes that showed up in the second half have been overdone in fiction as of late Brown did a decent job in portraying it in an exciting way.

This book clearly draws inspiration from many others. Sometimes this bothers me about books, but for some reason it didn’t in this case. It likely has something to do with the fact that I don’t think I’ve ever before read ideas put together in this particular way before.

The ideas are drawn from so many vastly different places I have trouble categorizing it. The book is set on Mars, but has a very dystopian feel at times. At others it has a mythological fantasy feel with all because the houses at the school Darrow attends are named after Roman gods or even Lord of the Flies.

There is also the question of whether or not it is young adult, new adult, or adult. Darrow starts the book at 16, but within it two years pass, and I know for a fact the next book has a time jump in between and the story restarts with Darrow at age 20. This book is also very realistic in the horrors of the totalitarian regime and the actions of the characters who live within it. Many characters bring out the worst in themselves in this novel.

While I wanted to see more of some world-building aspects others felt overly simplified. I can think of other books off the top of my head that use a color classification system to differentiate between classes of people. Then again, I’ve been reading an excessive number of Brandon Sanderson books lately and have come to expect excellent world-building.

Something I would have liked to see more of is the world building, specifically how living on Mars affected the characters. We’re not shown much of the Martian Civilization, and the rebels themselves. The rebel organization was interesting, but like so many other dystopian novels I’ve read it was skimmed over in this novel, but I’m hopeful more of the rebels will be seen in future books as the story expands in scale.

What readers should know: This book features a significant amount of swearing, mentions of cannibalism, mentions of sex, prostitution murders, executions, and some side characters are raped. The cannibalism, prostitution, and rape do not occur while the main character is present, but it’s clear what is happening. Darrow is present for and sometimes even participates in murders and executions. The sex scenes are not detailed, and the book puts little emphasis on romance.

Rating: I flew through this book and really enjoyed it overall, but would have liked the later portion to be more in depth details about the rebels and the world so I’ve given it a four out of five.

4 blue jays

Skylark Book Review

Title: Skylark (Skylark Trilogy Book 1)

Author: Meagan Spooner

Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Dystopian

Synopsis: All her life Lark has lived sheltered within a dome enclosed city powered by magic. The last human survivors of a war of magic that left the land surrounding the city a barren, desolate place. All she wanted in life was to be “harvested” of her magic so that she could finally grow up and become a  productive member of the community, but when long buried secrets and lies come to light Lark must flee the city into the wilderness that Lark knows nothing about. If she doesn’t she risks becoming nothing more than the cities power supply. Lark has only two instructions: find the Iron Wood, and follow the birds. Only one problem, Lark has never seen a bird in her life. So far as she’s concerned birds are all but extinct.

Book Trailer: *Note: I did not make this trailer, Lerning Publisher did.*

Review: A blend of science fiction and fantasy, Skylark takes place in a future where everyone is born with a small amount of magic that is later “harvested” to power the city. The beginning of this story is confusing, and the middle was slow. So slow in fact, that I almost gave up on the book. Readers who are looking for a fast passed book should look elsewhere. The true genius of this book was in it’s ending. In the last third, I was able to clearly see how everything that had happened thus far had been building towards it. I just adore books where everything comes together at the end. As a result, if I was reviewing just the first two thirds of this book it would have a three rating, but if I was only reviewing the last third it would receive a four point five. So anyone struggling with this book should be sure to keep reading for the awesome ending.

The world building was done fairly well, although it was confusing at times. Lark wasn’t extremely aware of the world she lived in and readers had to find out facts about life outside the city wall with her. This led to many of Lark’s original assumptions being proven wrong. At the beginning the world seemed a little cliche (because of the dome city, the war that wiped out most of humanity, and the evaluation process that led to nothing good) but it moved away from that as the story progressed.

As for characters, Lark did get on my nerves sometimes (as in the whole of parts one and two), but her personality was what I would expect from someone in her situation. Which made her feel ultimately more  realistic than annoying. The author did a great job of giving the general personalities of her side characters that were in the book for a relatively short number of pages. There were also some very interesting twists to character development. Some of which were predictable to the well read reader and some that were not.

There’s no way I’m going to spoil the ending for any future readers but I will say this: there was no cliffhanger. Some questions are left unanswered, it’s true, but there is little doubt that those questions will come to play later on in the trilogy. The reader is also left with a general sense that the book is a complete story but the reader was still left wondering what happens next which is my idea of a perfect ending.

Romance in this book was kept to a minimum. Every time I had a feeling that a relationship might develop something seemed to prevent it. However, I suspect that there may be more romance in future books. For a while it even looked like there might have been a love triangle but then Meagan Spooner took the story in a whole new direction. It was also nice how Lark eventually got upset when boys tried to keep her safe. (As illustrated by the quote below.) So if you are looking for a series that doesn’t revolve around romance but it is not entirely absent this might be a good read.

Quote: “I don’t want to be kept safe! I don’t want to have someone constantly trying to keep me from tripping on my own incompetence. I want to live in a world where I know the rules, where people are just people. Not one where they keep trying to eat me. That’s the reason I left the city in the first place. I don’t want to be kept, not by anyone.”

Rating/Recommendation: There were enough interesting elements in this book to give me the impression that Meagan Spooner is indeed a competent writer, however, because this book lagged so much in pacing that it took me over a month to finish I feel as though I can’t give it above a 3.5/5. Although, after that ending I really wanted to give it a four. I recommend this book to readers of YA who are tired of recurring romance cliche but are willing to read through the slow beginning and middle for the awe-inspiring conclusion.

3.5 blue jays