Pierce Brown’s debut trilogy has the fingerprints of several great fantasy and sci-fi epics all over it, while simultaneously carving out a wide chunk for itself in the larger literary mythos of our time. Imagine a futuristic Roman Empire in space, with all of the technological and societal advances promised in our age, and then some.
Premise: 700 years from now, mankind is broken into groups and genetically altered to fit different tasks assigned to them. There’s no advancing outside of your “color” (assigned class.) Darrow, a Red, thinks he lives a normal life as a grunt on Mars, drilling for resources, but when he learns he’s actually a slave, he joins a rebellion to overthrow the ruling class.
Setting: Predominately Mars in the future, but across the course of the trilogy, the characters travel to Phobos, Luna (our moon), the asteroid belt, and the moons of Jupiter.
Genre: Science fiction
Lesson: Good night above, there are too many to list. On its face, it’s a standard rebellion story, but there is so much more meat on these bones than just that. Too many times to count, I read these books (twice now all the way through) and thought “How does a guy so young know so much?” Astonishing wisdom permeates these pages.
My favorite character: Sevro au Barca, a.k.a. ‘Goblin’. Talk about a ruthless dude with no filter, who spends a lot of the book as a peripheral chaotic good, only to face the fallout of his choices later on.
Why you should read it: Despite the commonplace premise, Brown has proven that he deserves to be here, and that he writes more than just another nameless popcorn adventure. This is a series bursting at the seams with characters you will either fear, admire, or hate, but at no point will you feel nothing at all for them. I will read this trilogy many times yet, to learn how Brown writes so well.
Of note: To the extent that it might matter to you, this series is, shall we say, “authentically Roman.” So the violence isn’t candy-coated, and while the author doesn’t revel in it, he doesn’t shy away from it either. The reality of war is depicted with brutal veracity. Plenty of profanity and vulgarity comes from the rougher characters (no F-bombs until book 3, though.) And while sensuality also has its role, there’s only one true “in-room” scene near the end of book 2. If those are dealbreakers for you, be warned.