Synopsis (from Goodreads):
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.
Hunger Games, meet the reconstructed Roman society which sprawls over several planets and their moons. We get here two young lovers separated by cruel death (Romeo, where’s my Romeo?), social injustice, and a rightful uprising of the oppressed, led, presumably, by the Chosen One, the salt of the red Mars soil masquerading as one of the horribly depraved (but nevertheless devastatingly handsome) upper caste. Woo-hoo. Tricks of Neo are nothing compared to that (and if you don’t know or have forgotten who Neo was there is a gif below to illustrate my point).
First the positives. The novel was skillfully written. Perhaps the narrative voice could have been a tad more polished but for an action-driven dystopia it was a quick, effortless read. It was also quite gory because dystopias should be gory. I didn’t mind. Still compared to the series of Suzanne Collins it seriously lacked in the world build and psychology department.
I could accept a premise featuring a cruel ruling class who make kids of their workers fight to death in scenic circumstances just to drive their point home – we are stronger than you,we can do with you and your kids what we want, behave or else. The solution might be grim but remains quite reasonable and effective; after all nothing makes you hate the baddies more than a humiliating, pointless death of innocents. However, I really couldn’t swallow the fact that in this one children from the ruling class itself, the Golds, were forced to kill each other while attending a kind of ‘ finishing school’ for elites. If it was supposed to show the cruel ruthlessness of the regime it failed. A society which wastes so much potential of, allegedly, its best and brightest cannot and would not be successful. I would be far more interested if the drop-outs were forced to e.g. change their Colour into something inferior and leave their family forever, living as, say, Pinks or Greys, forced to, heavens forbid, work. The author could make it as cruel and humiliating as he wished but at least it would preserve one of the most basic rules innate to any society – don’t kill off your own without a very strong reason or face a rebellion.
That problem was connected to another thing that bugged me – why so many kids of the Golds were actually so pampered and weak? They couldn’t kindle a fire without matches, their strategic thinking was non-existent and they knew close to nothing about basic survival. If I knew that my son or daughter were supposed to take part in a very ruthless, barbaric and difficult but compulsory selection process in order to succeed in life I would do my utmost to prepare him or her for that task from the earliest age and improve his/her chances. I most certainly wouldn’t keep him/her pampered and weak until it was too late.
Also the ‘colour-coding’ of castes seemed a bit too literal and crude. The ‘Reds’ had red hair, red irises and reddish skin; the Golds were like your Nazi wet dream: gold hair, golden eyes, strong, taller than the rest, very handsome/pretty. So far so good; still with other Colours, I think, the results might be a tad facetious and Brown became aware of it only too late. So Whites (dealing with philosophy and such inanities) have white…everything? What about Pinks (sex and leisure workers)? Are they really pink all over – eyes, hair, skin and all the rest? Mind you, there are also (as far as I remember): Greens, Blues, Purples, Obsidians, Silvers, Bronzes, Khakis…the mind boggles!
I suppose it would work far better for me if people of all castes consisted of just normal humans differing in a normal way, perhaps plus some artificial enhancements for the privileged ones (a solution employed by Hunger Games, mentioned above, Uglies and Pretties by Westerfield and many other dystopias).
Finally the characters weren’t as three-dimensional as I expected them to be and the action was often used instead of psychology. Which is boring.
I am not sure I would like to continue reading this series. The author tried hard to write a catchy story but for me it was just a tad too primitive. Meh.