Actual rating: 2.5
“Darrow. Come here. Come.” He grabs my shoulder and pulls me in. “Others may have failed. But you’ll be different, Darrow. I feel it in my bones.”
I'm sorry, was I supposed to feel something?
I suppose boredom is a feeling. Not a single tear was shed. Not for a single instance was a single emotion heightened. It was by no means a bad book, but the message got lost in the telling, and there is just. So. Much. Telling. The writing is fantastic, but the plot just didn't work for me. I was bored out of my mind for much of the book.
This book tries to be grand. It tries really, really hard to make a lofty, awe-inspiring political message. It read like a rousing Communist propaganda, the sort that would get a crowd of common men fired up, ready to launch an uprising to bring down the almighty ruling class that has long oppressed them.
Wait, this book is trying to make a political message? Something about freeing the oppressed? What the fuck? No. It is a story about how Darrow is better than everyone else at everything because he is The One. His life is saved by the act of God, or shall I say, the act of deus ex fucking machina every single fucking time.
It wants to be the story of a common laborer, a sheep, one who is content with his hard-working life, who is proud of the products of his toil because it supposedly means something. Darrow is the Everyman, the ordinary worker, the common man to whom we all can relate! Not.
If Darrow were a female, I would not hesitate for one millisecond to slap a "Mary Sue" label on him. He is bloodydamn perfect. An Everyman, he is not. The common man, he is not. Average, he is most definitely not. Fine, Darrow is meant to be perfect because he's the SYMBOL OF HIS PEOPLE. He's so fucking special. He was plucked from the mires of obscurity to save his people.
His perfection raises a lot of question, and this book left me largely unsatisfied.
Darrow: The main character is Darrow, and he is so perfect as to be improbable, unrealistic, and completely unbelievable.
He is a 16-year old worker. He toils. A life of hardship is all he has ever known. He is a Red, the lowest social class, the dregs of society. He is an uneducated minor, and a miner (I make no apologies for the pun, I've been waiting to ues that one for ages). As the mad scientist who has been told to turn Darrow into a Gold says...
"Say we make his body perfect, there’s still one problem: we cannot make him smarter. One cannot make a mouse a lion.”
That's right. Darrow is not stupid, but he is uneducated. He has not had the privilege of a life's worth of highly selective education. His body is hard, strong, but unhoned in war.
And he dares compete against the Golds, the highest echelon of Society. The strongest, the most powerful, the most intelligent.
Only Darrow dares. And he succeeds beyond anyone's wildest imagination. He is so fucking perfect, and I hate him for it. Despite a complete lack of education, he is brilliant. Just fucking brilliant.
I don’t know the math, but I know the pattern. I solve it and four more puzzles, then it changes once more in my hands, becoming a circle. Mickey’s eyes widen. I complete the circle’s puzzles and then toss him back the device. He stares at my hands while working his own twelve fingers.
“Impossible,” he murmurs.
He succeeds at everything. Lack of knowledge? Fuck that shit, just drink a fucking INTELLIGENCE TONIC AND BOOM! INSTANT GENIUS.
Before I sleep, I drink a tonic laden with processing enhancers and speed-listen to The Colors, The Iliad, Ulysses, Metamorphosis, the Theban plays, The Draconic Labels, and restricted works like The Count of Monte Cristo, Lord of the Flies, Lady Casterly’s Penance, 1984, and The Great Gatsby. I wake knowing three thousand years of literature and legal code and history.
Where was that stuff when I was cramming for my finals in school? :|
Which begs the question, if Darrow can be artificially enhanced like that, why hasn't everyone else? What makes Darrow so special that his artificial physical and mental enhancements haven't been used to make the actual Golds better than they are?
It doesn't work.
The Plot: It just plods on, and on, and on. There was not a whole lot of bad in this book except for the fact that the message got lost along the way, and it was so incredibly boring. My friends promised me it would get better at the 15% mark. They promised me it would get better at the 30% mark. I just kept waiting, and waiting, and waiting, and things never really inproved. The first 15% of the book had my head spinning as we are introduced to the immensely boring and confusing world building. The next 20% was better, because hey! Darrow got ripped apart and put back together. The rest of the book was like, The Hunger Games in that you pitch a ton of elite students together in to a Lord of the Flies scenario until one emerges, victorious.
Maybe. The message got somewhat lost in between the whole "Hunger Game" survival scenario at a leadership training school, the Insitute.
My name, three bars beside it now, floats nearer the Primus hand.
Cassius has risen too.
But there can be only one Primus.
There's the hardship of survival, the fight to be the victor...the, um, battle against pimples?
People remain hungry because we’ve yet to build a fire in the castle, and hygiene is quickly forgotten when two of our girls are snatched up by Ceres horsemen as they bathe in the river just beneath our gate. The Golds are confused when even their fine pores begin clogging and they gain pimples.
Seriously, I can't even tell you what the latter 25% of the book was about because it was such a confusing, boring mess.
The Setting: I thought this was well done, despite the massive amount of infodumping without definition. If you want sci-fi, you got it. The reader is instantly immersed into the world on Mars, the underground, the mining world.
There is a tremendous amount of terms that the reader doesn't know at first. The good is that the book doesn't try to spoon-feed its readers. The bad is that OH MY GOD SO MANY TERMS WHAT THE HELL DOES IT ALL MEAN?! The first 10% of the book had my head in a tailspin.
Frysuit, helldiver, Tinpots, clawDrill, scanCrew, headTalk, randomlyCapitalizedWords, etc. It was tremendously confusing.
The good is that the setting is eventually explained. The system of castes on Mars based on colors is explained, and about damn time, too.
The Gray soldiers prowl the cities ensuring order, ensuring obedience to the hierarchy. The Whites arbitrate their justice and push their philosophy. Pinks pleasure and serve in highColor homes. Silvers count and manipulate currency and logistics. Yellows study the medicines and sciences. Greens develop technology. Blues navigate the stars. Coppers run the bureaucracy. Every Color has a purpose. Every Color props up the Golds.
The technology is slowly revealed to us. The reader has to WORK in order to understand the setting. I like that the background of the book is incorporated into the story, there is no stupid "Once Upon a Time blah blah blah" shit type of dystopian background building here.
The fact that the book takes such an easy view of randomly killing off its elite citizens was well-explained, too. I usually take offense at random killing of your best and brightest, but I have to admit that this book gave me an adequate explanation.
“And you may think it a waste of good Golds, but you’re an idiot if you think fifty children make a dent in our numbers. There are more than one million Golds on Mars. More than one hundred million in the Solar System. Not all get to be Peerless Scarred, though, eh?
Darrow's Physical Transformation: My Fair Lady to the fucking EXTREME, man. Darrow is a Red. He is trying to be a Gold, in order to achieve that, he has to undergo a very far-out sci-fi transformation process. Bones are rebuilt. Skin is peeled off. Synapses are formed. There is a TON of blood and pain. It is fucking awesome.
The agony is beyond language or comprehension. I watch videos of it afterwards to distract me from the residual pain. He uses a vibroScalpel to slice the flesh of my thigh down the middle. He parts my muscle and skin with clamps to expose the bones of my legs. Then he peels off layers of the bone with a bonepeeler and paints new layers with his improved-bone recipe.
“Someone has to dot God’s i’s.”
The Political Message: This is meant to be a political parable, and it does it quite well. I could select one of a thousand sentences in this book and plaster it onto a Communist propaganda where it would fit in place perfectly. The political message in this book is loud, clear, and well done. I said this was a rousing book, and it was. The message of inequality is so clear here. The struggles of the Reds are well-depicted. You can clearly see the injustice, the betrayal, the deceit, and I understand the hunger that Darrow felt and his desperation to make things right for his people.
“This is our bloodydamn planet.”
“Through sweat and toil it was made so,” he agrees.
“Then what will it take to take it back?”
An ambitious book, and one that many of my friends have loved.
It just didn't do the job for me.