Hodder, out now
Life underground is short and brutal; but the Reds suffering it understand their work will one day help the future of the human race. But when Darrow learns the truth, he’s willing to do what it takes to bring down the society that has lied to him all his life…
There are echoes of many previous dystopian stories in Pierce Brown’s tale, which has just been picked up for a movie version by Universal. The most obvious link is to The Hunger Games, but like that trilogy, it also a lot to William Golding’s classic tale of youngsters left to fend for themselves, Lord of the Flies.
The opening section is important for establishing Darrow’s background, although it does give a bit of an odd impression of the book: those underground have their own slang, and the reader is thrown right into this. It works, in that the reader gets a similar feeling of alienation from the people being talked about to the feeling that Darrow gets once he’s among the elite of society, but it could be off putting for some. There are numerous times, however, when information that appears initially irrelevant in this first part takes on new importance later. The language of the book adapts as Darrow himself changes to match the situation in which he finds himself, and it’s instructive after finishing the novel to go back to those first few chapters to see just how much it – and he – has altered.
There’s a harshness to the “games” in which Darrow becomes embroiled, and we’re never allowed to forget the very first test which all who participate have had to undergo. It’s not a test that anyone would want to be part of, and it gives the victors some self-knowledge which they might prefer not to have – but which they’ll need later. All of them are put through the wringer regularly, with shifting allegiances and unpleasant tasks to be carried out.
Brown’s characters are, on the whole, credible, and only occasionally is there a jarring moment when the fact that most of them are in their late teens doesn’t fit with the way they’re behaving. I suspect this will be less of an issue in a movie version, since we’re so used to seeing twenty-somethings playing teens for these sorts of series/films.
Verdict: Not quite as ground-breaking as it’s been made out to be, this is a solidly entertaining story with a harder edge than some similar series. 7/10