Science-fiction, fantasy, dystopian fiction, these are just a few of the genres Pierce Brown weaves into his book Red Rising that has made it such an incredibly unique and relatable book that parallels our own world, despite being set on Mars where everyone is placed in a color-coded caste system to determine their worth, and what their responsibilities are.
As we follow Darrow, a member of the red caste who are responsible for dedicating their lives to making the surface of mars liveable for future generations, he and his friends soon realize that this goal assigned to them by the higher-ups of society has been a cruel lie this entire time.
While the story of Red Rising is undoubtedly very oppressive and harsh on its characters, it also makes those glimmers of hope even more meaningful, turning this into a valiant story centered around the idea of living in a just world rather than having to face exploitation.
If the mixture of sci-fi and relatable social expectations and oppression is what drew you to flick through the pages of Red Rising, here are a few books from the likes of authors such as Roger Levy and Brandon Sanderson that share a similar writing style and themes to this multi-award winning classic by Pierce Brown.
Themes In Red Rising
Class And Prejudice
The harsh and oppressive caste colors that Pierce Brown assigns his characters in Red Rising are actually loosely based on the idea of a hierarchy system mentioned by Plato in his classic document The Republic.
However, when we see it in practice, it is much more deceitful than we initially think, especially when Darrow and other members of the red caste, the lowest color in society, find very soon that the surface of Mars is already sprawling with cities and life, and that they have simply been serving the ruling class for generations.
This awakening of class consciousness is at the heart of Red Rising’s story as Brown creates a very vivid and disturbing image of how many secrets are kept from the lower groups of society, creating uneasy parallels with our own world.
When Darrow and his fellow reds were tirelessly working to cultivate the land so that one day other humans can live on the surface, his fierce belief and dreams are shattered upon realizing that his entire life mission has been a lie.
While Darrow could have given up hope entirely, the sixteen-year-old miner instead finds new hope in bringing down the gold caste ruling class, with the idea of retaining hope in a dark and oppressive world being a very prominent theme as the story goes on and Darrow’s beliefs are constantly shaken.
Darrow believes that taking down the gold and silver caste, even if it means joining them, is true justice, however as the story goes on, he and his allies must come to terms with how complex that term really is, and how subjective this concept can really be in practice.
Books Like Red Rising
The frightening aspect of Pierce Brown’s story in Red Rising is that, while it is definitely a dystopian novel, it’s not hard to imagine this scenario happening to us in real life later down the line, making the story incredibly engaging as it almost feels like you could be reading a premonition of the future.
The Rig is a novel that reads in much the same way, following two boys on a desert planet where the idea of God was abandoned generations ago, and all that remains is AfterLife, a social media platform where members of society, or “subscribers”, are able to come back to life and become resurrected, so long as they get enough votes from other users.
Roger Levy’s haunting tale tells the story of obsession, and primarily, our obsession with online validation and temporary happiness, something that is already so prevalent in today’s society with the astronomical rise of social media.
The hopefulness for a better world in Red Rising is a very powerful and relatable theme that is shared in The Rig, making for a dark yet fascinating narrative that seems like an eerie prediction of where we could end up in many years.
- Incredibly compelling premise which can seem very relatable
- Fantastic world-building of a dystopian planet and society
- Perfect length
- Some instances of unnecessary violence with little to no payoff
Themes: Obsession, validation, hope, purpose
You may have already heard about American Gods from the popular drama tv series that first aired back in 2017, however, Neil Gaiman’s original novel is really the best way to experience the story, following the life of ex-convict Shadow as he, and his mysterious new friend Mr. Wednesday, embark on a mythical and symbolic journey to the Heart of America, uncovering all the dark secrets that have held it together since its foundation.
Not only is this book a must-read for all those history buffs out there, but it also centers on themes of class, prejudice, and the freedom to think independently rather than becoming influenced by the teachings that surround us, with the power of religion and its role in guiding America and its people being a big focus in the story.
American Gods also features plenty of mythological references, especially to Norse gods including Odin and Loki, giving the story a slightly more fantastical set of characters while still retaining many of the themes found in Red Rising.
- Thought-provoking story centered around morality and free-thinking
- Great references to mythology and American history
- Quirky characters and dialogue keep the story fairly upbeat
- Many mysteries and twists right until the very end
- Side characters don’t get as much development as the main duo
Themes: Freedom, expression, tradition, idealization
Brandon Sanderson is known as one of the most influential writers in the epic fantasy scene, and The Final Empire is a testament to this, following the story of lowly but incredibly talented thief Kelsier who may have hunted down the odd target here and there throughout his life, but now, he’s aiming for the biggest target of them all, the Lord Ruler.
The Final Empire may be set in a slightly more fictional world when compared to the more dystopian setting of Red Rising, however it actually shares many similar concepts, especially when it comes to class prejudice as the Lord Ruler in the book looks down on the Skaa who he has been slaving for many years, causing them to live in fear and misery, something Kelsier hopes to change.
The world-building really is what makes this book stand out as Kelsier comes into contact with many other Skaa who have all been heavily oppressed in one way or another, giving the reader a clear idea of just how twisted and harsh this world really is, along with the effect this oppression can have on the people themselves who learn not to trust anyone, not even those who claim that they want to help.
- Kelsier is a very complex and compelling main character
- Side characters all have very unique backstories and time to develop
- Heart-wrenching moments make the story incredibly engaging
- Fantastic world building
- Pacing can be very slow near the beginning
- Ending still leaves a few loose ends
Themes: Class, prejudice, discrimination, trust, morality
There’s no doubt that the incredibly thought-provoking and relatable themes and ideas in Red Rising have inspired many other books to experiment with this dystopian tale of the future, and it is incredibly hard to put down once you get stuck into the gripping story.
If you are looking for a few books that share similar themes to this classic novel, or maybe stories that share similar ideas but are set in a different period or in a different world entirely, try out a few of these recommendations that are guaranteed to give you that same thought-provoking narrative that Red Rising is so beloved for.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Many Books Are In The Red Rising Series?
While Red Rising is the first installment of its series, there are six books in total that all follow the same story of Darrow and his journey to infiltrate and take down the ruling gold members of society.
Dark Age is the latest installment which was released in July 2019, and while the final book, Lightbringer, has not yet been released, Pierce Brown has promised that it will be dropping at some point in the middle of 2023.
Does Red Rising Include Any Romance?
There is a little bit of romance in the Red Rising story, however, it doesn’t really feature until the third book, and even then, it takes a major backseat to the bigger themes being presented in the story.
While some fans will therefore mistakenly go into the Red Rising series of books expecting it to be more of a fictional love story, this isn’t really the case.