I went into this knowing absolutely nothing. The sequel to this, Golden Son, won the Goodreads award for science fiction novel of 2015, so I thought I should check the series out. Those Goodreads awards are a little silly, because the people voting haven’t read all of the novels nominated, but it at least meant that it was enjoyed by a lot of readers. I’m glad I did pick this up, because it turned out to be my favourite novel of the last year (or at least one of them…I have commitment issues).
This takes place on Mars and follows a sixteen-year-old named Darrow. Darrow is a Red, the lowest class in human society, who works under the surface of the planet to gather helium-3, a gas that humanity uses for its terraforming efforts. He works as a Helldiver, which is the incredibly difficult and dangerous job of maintaining the drills in the helium-3 mine. The Reds are born under the surface and eventually die there, never seeing the sky. This is their sacrifice for future Reds, for once humans have terraformed other planets, their people are promised prosperous lives.
On Mars there is not much gravity, so you have to pull the feet to break the neck. They let the loved ones do it.
Darrow faces a moment of true injustice, even above and beyond what he lives with every day, and this eventually tears him from the life he knows and leads him to join an uprising, somewhat against his will. Once he has joined, we’re treated to interesting war tactics and mind games as he tries to integrate with, and eventually battle, higher class citizens, in a way that is reminiscent of Ender’s Game, except on a much larger scale. Instead of just a squad leader, in a way he’s learning to be a king. It’s a fun mix of a coming-of-age story with dystopian science fiction and medieval castle siege warfare.
My only minor issue with the novel was how the plot was structured in this first book. This has a Hunger Games feel to it, in that Darrow, with all of the students in the school he infiltrates, are put into an arena to battle. It’s not for entertainment, but rather education, and it’s not necessarily to the death. I enjoyed this quite a bit, but the way it was executed made it feel as if you were reading a side plot for 70% of the novel, which made the overarching story that had been introduced up until that point feel weak.
The games were the focus in the first Hunger Games novel from the beginning, and (I’m assuming, as I only read the first) the larger story was built off that base and developed in the next two sequels. In this, we have an introduction that is about a greater problem, and then we suddenly find ourselves in these games and everything has changed. I loved that the games were a surprise, and thoroughly enjoyed that portion of the novel, but when it finishes you’re suddenly reminded that surviving the games wasn’t the ultimate goal.
It didn’t ruin anything for me, and we are still shown briefly how this has put Darrow in a much greater position to do what he originally set out to do, but it was a bit jarring.
This is full of clever ideas, and it’s beautifully written, particularly for a first novel. Tim Gerard Reynolds’ narration was spectacular. He has to do quite a mixture of accents and characters, and he pulled it off brilliantly. He’s a new favourite of mine now. This is the first in a trilogy, and the final book is released next month, so this is the perfect time to start these. I’m going on holiday in a couple of weeks, and I don’t think I’ll have much time for audiobooks, so I plan to start the next book in a month or so.