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Red Rising



Incessant cruelty spoils action-packed sci-fi saga.

What parents need to know

Educational value

Martian society in Red Rising is patterned after the ancient traditions of Greece and Rome, with Houses named for Minerva, Aphrodite, Jupiter, and other mythological figures. Ancient philosophers are sometimes quoted to justify present-day actions.

Positive messages

Red Rising is a novel about revenge, cruelty, and deception on a grand scale. The series may eventually turn out to be a cautionary tale about the dangers of vengeance, but that theme may not be readily apparent to teen readers. 

Positive role models

Throughout Red Rising, the reader is supposed to root for Darrow as he plots his revenge against the Golds who destroyed his family and enslaved his people. Unfortunately, Darrow must be nearly as cruel as his tormentors for his plan to succeed. He usually feels bad about his worst behavior and manages to avoid being truly abominable. But some younger readers may not see the gray areas in how he is presented.


Red Rising is extremely violent, from start to finish. Physical combat seems to be part of nearly every scene. Darrow and the supporting characters are stabbed, impaled, whipped, hung by the neck, hacked at with axes, and electrocuted. Although it happens offstage, women are raped and opposing factions.


At the start of Red Rising, Darrow and Eo are both 16, married.and presumably share an adult sex life. After Eo is killed, Darrow forms a relationship with another young woman, Mustang. They sleep together for warmth, but there are few other details about their physical intimacy. 


The language is Red Rising is rough, with multiple uses of "s--t," "a--hole," "prick," "piss," "hell," and "damn," along with setting-specific slang such as "bloodydamn" and "gorydamn," The aggressive male characters are fond of threatening to urinate on each other.

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Darrow and his companions pretend to get drunk to surprise their enemies.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Red Rising is a science-fiction adventure story set in a mining colony on Mars, the first of a planned trilogy. It's filled with nonstop action, extreme violence, and coarse language, with multiple uses of "s--t," "a--hole," "prick," "piss," "hell," and "damn," along with setting-specific slang such as "bloodydamn" and "gorydamn." Physical combat is a part of nearly every scene. Protagonist Darrow and the supporting characters are stabbed, impaled, whipped, hung by the neck, hacked at with axes, and electrocuted. Although it happens offstage, women are raped and enslaved. Sexual content is minimal: The main character is married and widowed at 16, and later begins another romantic relationship, the details of which are vague. The series may eventually turn out to be a cautionary tale about the dangers of vengeance, but that theme may not be readily apparent to teen readers.

What's the story?

In the color-coded society of future Mars, Darrow is a Red who spends his days underground, mining helium-3 for the Golds, who live on the surface and are supposedly terraforming the planet for the good of all. After his wife is sentenced to death, Darrow swears vengeance on his family's oppressors. When he's given that chance, he learns that nearly everything he's been told is a lie. Darrow undergoes a harrowing physical transformation so that he can pass as a Gold warrior, but if he's to survive, he may have to adopt the worst aspects of those he would betray.

Is it any good?


RED RISING is action-packed, suspenseful, and frequently clever, a futuristic riff on The Count of Monte CristoUnfortunately, its better qualities are buried by the melodramatic posturing of its protagonist and by the incessant cruelty of its plot and supporting players. Author Pierce Brown clearly has a strategy for the long haul, in which lessons will be learned about the cost of vengeance, but the constant violence, aggressive language, and general unpleasantness of nearly every character overshadows and undercuts any positive message.

Older teens may respond to the high emotional level of the writing, but some may miss the point that Darrow's attitudes and actions are not to be emulated.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about why science fiction stories about teens participating in deadly contests are so popular. What is it about works like The Hunger Games or Ender's Game that appeals to young readers?

  • What makes a good leader? Bravery? Empathy? Ruthlessness?

  • What are the drawbacks of trying to win at any cost?

Book details

Author:Pierce Brown
Genre:Science Fiction
Topics:Adventures, Friendship, Misfits and underdogs, Space and aliens
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Del Rey
Publication date:January 28, 2014
Number of pages:382
Available on:Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle

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Adult Written byCicero44 April 5, 2015
Common sense media couldn't tell a good book if it hit them in the face. Pierce Brown paints a masterful picture with his writing, creating an in-depth world full of complex characters and a compelling plot line drawing elements from literary classics such as Lord of the Flies, Ender's Game, The Prince, Catcher in the Rye, and Brave New World but is unique in it's own right. What results is a smart and entertaining novel on many levels that showcases the best and worst of human nature. It might be classified as a young adult novel and children will find it entertaining because of the action packed plot but it can be enjoyed by those of any age due to it's actual literary elements and moral questions it poses. This book is equal parts pleasure reading and literature. (I'm using literature in a serious sense, this book could be taught in a high school english class and no teacher would bat an eye, something that can't be said about any YA novel written in the last decade.) I don't understand the issues the reviewer has with the book, one that avoids the archetypal young adult tropes that makes most of the genre unreadable by anyone other than emotionally deluded teenage girls, and whose originality puts shallow commercial hits this website seems to love, such as Divergent and The Hunger Games, to shame. Seriously, every reputable source for literary reviews gives this book either a 4 or 5 star rating yet somehow it gets 2 here. Then again though who in their right mind would listen to a website that gives a 3/5 on sex because the main character is married and "they presumably share an adult sex life." The violence in this book isn't graphic or glorified and sure there is language but nothing a kid wouldn't hear daily (and use) from middle school up. Common Sense Media and parents who follow their "enlightened" advice truly believe their children to be little angels who don't understand the world that we live in and can't handle anything but fairy tales!(On a side note, I wouldn't be surprised if some fairy tales got a not for kids rating from this website considering how uptight it is.) I had thought that this site couldn't be any more of a joke but this clearly hypocritical review in comparison with it's worship of other YA works that can barely even be called novels and bashing of actual literature has proved me wrong.
What other families should know
Educational value
Adult Written bysiddarthaekalavya April 19, 2015

Irresistible to put down

I love Red Rising series. Its so entertaining and exhilarating. Its cunning, strategic, unpredictable not knowing what happens next. What else it has everything we would like to have in a book. I would recommend it to individuals who are 12 and above. I totally disagree with this sites rating regarding to the book, it deserves much better than 2 stars. It is one of the best reads in the 2014. Its sequel "Golden Son" trumps the first book in every aspect and its much better than its predecessor.
What other families should know
Educational value
Great messages
Teen, 15 years old Written byLucan1010 October 20, 2015

Powerful story with strong violence

Violence: Strong, bloody violence between teens, similar to that in the hunger games, just more intense. Language: Frequent moderate and mild language, such as Sh*t h*ll cr*p etc. but no strong language. Sex: unlike the commonsense review, there is no "sex life" between Darrow and his wife. (at least not described or implied in the book). Just cuddling between two characters to stay warm. This is a powerful book about revenge and facing impossible odds, and the next book deals with the devastating consequences of revenge. While mature, I recommend this book for mature teens who can handle violence and some language.
What other families should know
Great messages
Too much violence
Too much swearing


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