Red Rising by Pierce Brown (Del Rey books, 2014)
Red Rising is the first book in a new science fiction series by young writer Pierce Brown. I should have been sufficiently warned by the quote on the cover: “Ender, Katniss, and now Darrow” (refering to Ender’s Game and The Hunger Games) that it was going to be dark and violent. Yes, it’s all about children killing each other, in the same way that football is all about large men pummeling into each other and knocking each other down. But the premise is quite imaginative – clearly Brown has devoted considerable thought to creating a whole future world. It takes place many centuries from now, when mankind has colonized many planets, but has devolved back to a society based on the values of ancient Rome. The upper class citizens even sport Roman names. But Darrow comes from one of the slave classes (called the Reds), and he has a long-term plan to infiltrate the high-born culture in preparation for overthrowing them. This first book is about Darrow’s experience in an military academy where future officers are selected by a planet-scale war game – where the losers of each battle really die. Not only that, their proctors interfere in the game to try to skew the results toward the children of the politically powerful.