Quicklit Review: Pierce Brown’s Red Rising is not for the squeamish.

Image    Darrow is a Hell Diver. He is one of the elite on the mining station of Mars who have been sent as an advance team to prepare the Red Planet for human habitation. When he risks his life to boost his team’s prospects at winning the Laurel, which translates into better and more abundant rations, he is surprised, but not overly upset when he finds out that the competition is rigged. The powers that control the lives of the miners manipulate and suppress the colony for their own purposes. What finally gets Darrow’s attention, though, is the unjust execution of a loved one. A single act of rebellion launches his life into a new trajectory in which he must erase all traces of his former life and hide in plain sight as a rebel against the political and social elite. Physically and mentally enhanced so that he can compete among the  sons and daughters of Mars’ elite, he fights to secure his place among the top commanders of the Mars forces so that as a mole in the governing body’s closed society, he can undermine the planet’s governing system. Darrow is thrown into a world of murder, torture, hunger, rape and deception as he and his fellow “students” compete to survive the bloodiest, most maddeningly unfair competition in Young Adult fiction I’ve read in a long time.
This heavily hyped futuristic story set on Mars combines the best and most gruesome parts of The Hunger Games, while also taking the “school” competition to a whole new level. The violence and raw aggressiveness of the plot, the setting, and the characters themselves, make this dystopian novel appropriate for older teens only.

Violence – VVV

Sex – SSS

Appropriate for High School age readers.

Under the Never Sky: A Story of Loss, Betrayal and Discovery As Changeable As the Sky

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In Veronica Rossi’s version of a dystopian future it is the sky with its electrical storms or “Aethers” that is the greatest threat to happiness. Unless, of course, you count all those oh-too-human emotions that just can’t seem to be left behind– no matter how our future selves try. Told in alternating viewpoints, Rossi’s novel starts slowly with what is by now a cliche opener — an adolescent prank gone bad. In this one, a group of Dwellers break out of their over-regulated, over-monitored lives inside the “pods” and go for a jaunt in the wild.  The story picks up speed once it moves outside the pods and we meet the second viewpoint character, the unnaturally gifted, Perry. The dual voices of these two young protagonists take the reader deeply into a tale of survival, betrayal and love.

Aria is a Dweller, a person who has spent her entire life living in the safety of the domed pods, away from the dangers of life on the outside- under the gene-altering power of the Aether. In her world, all activity takes place in the video game-like virtual “realms” where life is lived safely, and risk free. Nothing is left to chance, there, not even procreation.

On the night Aria tags along with a group of teenagers who sneak out of their pod, called Reverie, just for the fun of it, her goals are different than the others. She needs help from one of the group’s more popular members. Aria’s mothers, a geneticist who lives in a distant domed community called Bliss, has not been in contact with her for weeks.  When she and her friends encounter one of the “Savages,” those who live in the unprotected world, and the adventure on the outside turns deadly, Aria is held responsible. Her punishment — to be cast out into the unknown. In short, a sentence of a slow agonizing death.

On the outside, however, Aria meets Perry, the savage who was really responsible for the the pod-dweller’s death. Perry rescues Aria from certain death., but, although he ensures her survival, he does not offer her friendship, or the time and space she needs to grieve for her lost home. Soon it becomes clear that both of these young people are struggling with loss. Perry, a genetically gifted outsider has been cast out of his community, the Tides, as well. He has been held responsible for the capture of his nephew by the Pod-Dwellers. Together, Aria and Perry seek help from the odd but resourceful Marron, who Perry claims can repair Aria’s SmartEye, the device both Aria and Perry believe is the key to finding out what happened to their lost loved ones. In the confines of Marron’s walled compound, Delphi, the two discover the depths of the other’s loss and find consolation in each other’s arms.

The first installment of this dystopian series ends satisfactorily, but with much of the story still to be told. The love story unfolds slowly through well observed emotional and physical detail. The relationship grows organically and with patience, and so feels much more substantial than other YA romances set in dystopian futures. While Perry’s reliance on his sense of smell is reminiscent of another YA love interest of an unnatural kind, Perry never comes across as anything but genuinely human -compassionate, gentle, and very much a warm, flesh-and-blood boy.

Both the love scenes and the necessary violence are told straightforwardly, with emotion and power, but with few graphic details. The action is intense. However, the story also treats loftier questions about empathy, loyalty, family ties, and the inevitability of death and its relationship to life. In this series opener, Rossi provides ample fodder for deeper discussions, and her tale makes a worthwhile read for those inclined toward love stories set in yet another dystopia.

Sexual content – S

Violence – VV

Questionable Behavior – ?

Grade Level – 8th and up