Pierce Brown’s 2014 science fiction debut, Red Rising, opened another window into the reality of everyday class and race struggles. Other books like Red Rising have done this before, but none with the same page-turning flair.
The journey of young ‘Red’ protagonist Darrow is engaging and horrifying, often at the same time. One boy’s quest for vengeance against the autocratic ‘Golds’ responsible for the death of his wife, quickly evolves into a revolutionary struggle for freedom not only for him but for the entire human race. If you’re looking for books like Red Rising that graphically highlight the consequences of an unequal society, below are a few suggestions.
8 Books like Red Rising
The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
Considered the modern mother of dystopian YA fiction, The Hunger Games is an essential pit stop when looking for books like Red Rising. Forced to fight other children and young people in a gladiatorial battle to the death, Katniss Everdeen provides a look into a future world gone horribly wrong. Issues around social mobility, autocracy and the despair it leads to are explored throughout.
Katniss herself might forever be identified with Jennifer Lawrence’s solid movie interpretation, but the character in the novel shows more strength, vulnerability and nuance then any actor could achieve. The Hunger Games and other books similar to Red Rising have become enduringly popular. Perhaps because they hold a mirror against our world, allowing us to view cracks we fail to see or choose to ignore.
If you’ve already read this title, check out our list on more books like the Hunger Games & Divergent!
Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline
Browsing for books like Red Rising may also reveal Ernest Cline’s 2011 geek-fest. Ready Player One takes the reader on an enjoyable romp through a dystopian world. Yet underneath the pop-culture fun and thrilling virtual reality of ‘The Oasis’, lies a dark warning of just how bad things can get.
Wade is poor and lives in ‘the stacks’ – literally old caravans stacked on top of each other. Like many, he uses ‘The Oasis’ to escape the grim reality of the real world. Yet it is Wade’s quest to protect the virtual world against big corporations that resonates with the reader. His race to beat a wealthy elite to the prize of controlling ‘The Oasis’, parallels our own fight to protect the planet against uncaring multinationals.
Ready Player One and other novels like Red Rising, further demonstrate science fiction’s ability to weave contemporary issues into a gripping narrative.
Wool, by Hugh Howey
One of the independent successes originally published in 2011, Wool ably demonstrates how books like Red Rising have become so popular. Preceding Pierce Brown’s debut by nearly 4 years, Wool explores similar themes including deception, betrayal and vengeance.
Initially, readers follow the character of Holsten, sheriff of the silo – a literal underground bunker/shelter consisting of hundreds of levels and home to what’s left of the human race. Life is controlled by the mayor with law and order enforced by the sheriff. Criminals are sentenced to ‘cleaning’, forcing them to the now uninhabitable surface to ‘clean’ the waste and dirt from the silo sensors and cameras before their environmental suit succumbs to the surface toxins and they die. Here is where the lies and deceptions begin.
When the reader’s focus is placed upon secondary protagonist Juliette, the thematic similarities to Red Rising become apparent. Juliette discovers that all is not as it appears and a quest for truth and justice begins against the very people she thought were protecting humanity.
The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
On the surface, The Handmaid’s Tale appears far removed from books similar to Red Rising, but lead protagonist Offred has much in common with Darrow. Both are subjected to incredible acts of barbarism. Both rely on their innate intelligence to survive. Both harbour a burning desire for justice and vengeance against a class of society that seeks to keep them subjugated.
Published in 1985, The Handmaid’s Tale is set in a future version of the USA and follows Offred, a ‘handmaid’ serving as one of many breeding women under the brutal Republic of Gilead. Offred and the other handmaidens are some of the increasingly rare fertile women left and are assigned to local Commanders – the ruling class of men – in order to reverse declining birth rates. In reality, Offred and her companions are subjected to repeated rape under the watchful eyes of the Aunts, who train and indoctrinate the handmaids.
Offred’s struggles make for bleak reading, but admirably highlight many battles women today are still forced to fight. Like Red Rising, Atwood’s tale is often uncomfortable and difficult to acknowledge, yet the reader cannot help but continue to turn the page. Offred’s refusal to accept the world as it shines essential light on the immorality of subjugation in any form.
Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card
There are books like Red Rising that wrestle with the moral implications of war, but none deliver quite the same sucker-punch as Ender’s Game. Cited by many in the US military as ‘required reading’ for cadets, Ender’s Game has been updated several times over the years and has garnered much criticism for its political views.
In recent years Card himself has come under increasing fire for his views on same-sex marriage. Yet it is interesting to note that Ender’s Game swerves away from the bigotry it is often accused of, preferring to focus on the rules of war and if there is any morality behind them.
The narrative follows young Andrew ‘Ender’ Wiggins as he undergoes training in a military programme to finally defeat the ‘buggers’, an insectoid race who have tried to invade earth twice. Young minds are seen as the key to success, and Ender’s mind is discovered to be tactically one of the best. Undergoing a series of training exercises designed to prepare him and his team for a final assault against the ‘buggers’, Ender soon discovers his tactical genius has long term ramifications for his own soul.
Asking the perennial question of ‘how far is too far?’ Ender’s Game delivers an emotional wallop that leaves a reader thinking long after the book is closed.
The City & The Stars, by Arthur C Clarke
If you liked Red Rising, then you might be wondering how The City & The Stars even compares to the faster-paced narrative of Darrow’s journey. Whilst Clarke’s 1956 novel appears to be an entirely different beast to Brown’s rollicking saga, the thematic similarities are hard to deny.
Alvin lives in Diasper, the last human city left on earth. He tries to live in harmony with the rest of his compatriots but he cannot help but feel he is missing something. When he goes exploring the depths and outer confines of Diasper, Alvin discovers secrets about humanity’s past that are too earth-shattering for him to ignore.
Like Red Rising, The City & The Stars deals with the very human urge to ask if there is more to the lives that we are born into? Alvin might not harbour the same burning desire for vengeance, but he is as revolutionary in his actions as Darrow, upsetting the status quo and forcing others to see beyond their own bubble of existence.
The City & The Stars joins other novels like Red Rising in reminding us to challenge rather than merely accept the lives we’re given.
Dune, by James Herbert
Modern inspiration often comes from the past. Novels like Red Rising owe a lot to Dune with both featuring a young protagonist on a revolutionary quest to change society for the better.
In Dune, the story follows young Paul Atreides of the Atreides family. The Atreides oversee the planet Arrakis for a tribalistic human empire. Despite Arrakis being a desert wasteland, it is home to the only known source of ‘spice’ – a drug that extends human life and enhances mental abilities. Spice is essential for space navigation, so whoever controls Arrakis can control the empire. Following an attack on his family, Paul flees to the desert and joins with the native Fremen people who have been subjugated by the empire for years.
Paul’s journey from naive privileged son to revolutionary freedom fighter mirrors Darrow’s own journey in Red Rising. Both are fascinating tales dealing with the implications of class, religion and politics whilst set against a thrilling futuristic backdrop.
Already read this book? Check out our list of more books like Dune!
Altered Carbon, by Richard Morgan
Takeshi Kovacs is a trained ‘Envoy’ able to infiltrate, adapt and take out any enemy when ordered to do so, but in Altered Carbon, Kovacs wakes up in an unfamiliar body 200 years after he died. Turns out Kovacs has been hired to solve a suspected murder by the victim and if successful, earn the right to live again with a clean slate. So begins one of the most intriguing sci-fi stories in recent memory.
Books like Red Rising often drop the reader in a bizarre but fascinating situation before gently drawing our attention to a carefully lined trail of story-telling crumbs for us to follow. In Morgan’s world, humanity has learned how to back up lives and personalities in tiny ‘stacks’ implanted directly into the neck. When the body dies, the person can be ‘re-sleeved’ into a new body just so long as their stack is intact.
Kovacs’ journey to solve a murder mirrors Darrow’s quest for answers in Red Rising and both characters share the frustration of having to serve people they despise in order to survive. Both are thrust into situations they want nothing to do with but remain driven by a desire for truth, revenge and peace even if they have to kill to get it.
Kovacs might have a few centuries on Darrow, but in terms of being used, misled and betrayed, the former envoy easily invites comparisons with Red Rising’s younger protagonist.
There are countless books like Red Rising that are compelling page-turners and are sure to keep you engaged and riveted for many hours to come.
Are you looking for novels like Red Rising? Do you have any suggestions that didn’t make the list? Let us know in the comments!