"Red Rising" is the first part of a story of revolution on a terraformed Mars, revolution by the lowest class of society -- the Reds -- against the highest class -- the Golds. Martian society is physically as well as socially stratified -- the lowest class lives underground and mine helium for a living, while the highest class is aboveground, and in the sky, overseeing and governing while while enjoying all the decadence that their class affords them.
The Reds are (for the most part) oblivious to the truth of Martian social stratification. But when, as a result of personal tragedy, one of these Reds is exposed to the truth, he accepts a mission. Darrow is a young Red who agrees to undergo reconstruction of his body and speech and mannerisms so that he may pass for a Gold, and infiltrate Gold society with the goal of destroying the stratification that enslaves his people. This reconstruction is a gamble on the part of his "creator" and sponsors, because they must turn him loose and hope for the best, not knowing how many years it might take for Darrow to achieve success. And previous "experiments" have failed.
For Darrow, success will require playing his role without being detected, and reflecting Gold values without sacrificing his own. His motivation is not only the desire to free his people but fulfill his wife's wishes for a better world, while exacting retribution for what Golds have done to his family.
A substantial part of the first novel in this trilogy is taken up by a war-game played by a number of elite Gold youths (including Darrow, the impostor) who are being screened and conditioned for a selection process. I thought this part of the story was too long, although I understand why it was necessary for character development. But can the author carry us to the expected (?) conclusion (where the Reds achieve their freedom) in just two more books?
I didn't find the main character very likable. But I have to say he's interesting, complex. He is ruthless and compassionate, confused and determined, triumphant yet able to sink to his knees and weep. It is sad at times to watch as his experiences shape and harden him.
Thankfully, there are some surprises along the way, as well as a great unexpected ending. When I finished the story I decided this first book did not sufficiently interest me in the reading the next book in the trilogy. But, after reading the exciting sample from the next book, "Golden Son," I will likely change my mind.
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book through the Goodreads "First Reads" program.