I’m not usually one for sci-fi, but if somebody promises me that a book is going to be a lot like ‘The Hunger Games’, I’m all over it.
I also have an irrational aversion, which I need to get over, to YA (Young Adult) fiction. I don’t really know where this comes from other than a skewed idea – which I think a lot of people have – that YA fiction is somehow not as good as ‘adult’ fiction.
Which is really weird when we know that 55% of YA readers are actually adults.
I guess it does often have a tendency to be a bit more simplistic than highfalutin literary fiction and often doesn’t go into all the nuances of the relationships between characters. But if you’re looking for an exciting, high-octane story there’s rarely a better choice than a YA novel.
I’ve mentioned before that I have some issues with the moniker ‘YA fiction’. From the get-go, it has very strong associations with fantasy and sci-fi and to a lot of people it seems like a genre in its own right, instantly conjuring up images of witches and wizards sketched in watercolour on doorstop paperbacks. But it ain’t necessarily so.
Tomi Adeyemi’s excellent ‘Children of Blood and Bone‘ from last year was lucky to straddle the YA and adult genres and by doing so accessed a much wider audience than perhaps it would have done if relegated to the children’s section of the bookshop, simply because lots of potential readers would never think to look there.
I would argue it was also a bit more complex than what one might expect from your bog-standard YA novel, tieing in as it did with the upsurge in African-influenced fiction appearing in the UK and also (and I say this tentatively) tapping into the trend for Afrofuturism in culture and entertainment.
So, actually, this type of fiction does have the capacity to be quite complex and address real and pressing issues.
With that in mind, let me present to you ‘Red Rising’ and ‘Golden Son’, two YA sci-fi novels by Pierce Brown which I demolished over the Christmas period.
The first novel in Brown’s quadrilogy is an introduction to the story of Darrow, a sixteen-year-old ‘helldiver’ or drill miner.
Living and working on Mars, he believes that he and his people – the Reds – are enduring hard labour, poverty and danger in order to terraform Mars for the people of a desperately overpopulated earth, thereby saving the human race from extinction.
But an act of rebellion against the cruel ruling class starts a chain of events which will reveal to Darrow that he has been lied to his entire life. Mars has been terraformed and has been supporting a healthy population for decades, built off the back of Red sweat and blood.
To take down his oppressors he’ll need to infiltrate the highest echelons of Mars society, the Golds: perfect specimens of humanity who have profited from the labour of Reds and other ‘low colours’ to build their utopia.
‘Red Rising’ was a really fun and exciting read. It felt to me very much like ‘The Hunger Games’ in tone and style but I’d venture to say that the world building is even a little bit more crafted.
Brown has come up with a really clear and well thought out vision of his dystopian society. It’s also interesting to tag along with Darrow and chart his loyalties and emotions, which falter and strengthen with each decision he has to make.
His characterisation also reminded me a lot of Katniss, who is by no means perfect but her logic is always totally understandable. In both cases you really want them to grow and become the person they could be, but you’re really not sure if they’ll get there – and that makes up half the tension of the novel.
I loved ‘Red Rising’ so much I went straight onto the second book, ‘Golden Son’. I don’t want to give away too much about the plot as it might give away spoilers for ‘Red Rising’ but suffice to say, it’s just as exciting and expands the story out.
I was given this book for our office Secret Santa by my colleague Alice. Honestly, I would never have picked it from a bookshop in a million years but it was such a great surprise and shows the power of listening to recommendations!
I’d really recommend giving ‘Red Rising’ a try if you’re in the mood for something light that will help you escape to another universe for a few hours. The story is really gripping and had lots of twists and turns I couldn’t have predicted. There’s also a wide cast of characters and you become really attached to many of them.
If you’re a little bit of a reluctant reader when it comes to sci-fi – as I was – don’t worry; there are spaceships and pulse guns and all the rest of it in ‘Red Rising’, but it’s just the gift wrap for what is essentially a really exciting spy story, with a little bit of romance and a little bit of ‘House of Cards’-esque political manoeuvring thrown in for good measure.
A really fun read.
How do you guys feel about sci-fi? Do you love it already or a bit reluctant to try?