Red Rising: Sons of Ares - Brown, Hoskin and Powell

Red Rising: Sons of Ares - Brown, Hoskin and Powell ****

All men are not created equal. History has shown that life is a survival of the fittest, and in the futuristic world of Pierce Brown's Red Rising that fact is as true as it has ever been, the implications of which have been repeated in power struggles through human history. But is it a case that all men are not created equal or a case that there is just not a level playing field?

Pierce Brown's stunning SF Red Rising trilogy took mankind's propensity for power to the stars, to the colonisation of the planets and moons of our solar system, where the inequalities between the social classes is even more apparent. In this society each individual belongs to a colour caste, with the Golds the ruling aristocracy at the top and the working class miners of the Reds on Mars at the bottom. One's colour is built into one's genetic make-up and there is no way of rising between colours. Everyone knows their place, and in case they don't the rules are ruthlessly enforced. One man however, Darrow, a Mars Helldiver mining helium from deep beneath the surface of the Red planet, decided that it was time things changed.

But one man does not make a revolution and there were others who paved the way and provided the means for Darrow to infiltrate and attempt the violent overthrow Gold dominance. We already know that the revolutionary group known as the Sons of Ares where behind Darrow's carving, transformation and rise to a position of influence, and in this graphic novel prequel Red Rising: Sons of Ares, Brown looks back at the origins of the Sons of Ares and the man behind them, Fitchner au Barca. Combining SF ideas with space opera action and an in-depth knowledge of political history, it's not surprising that Brown is easily able to establish a solid and exciting background to the first stirrings of revolution.

Not born to one of the influential aristocratic houses, Fitchner has had to rise to a respected position - and survive - through merit and ruthlessness. It's much the same as Darrow had to do in the Red Rising trilogy, but as Brown has shown, history has a way of repeating itself and mankind continue to make the same mistakes, so when his family is targeted and threatened (Fitchner illegally married to a Red and giving birth to a son who will be an important figure in Darrow's story), it turns him against this corrupt society. Also much like Darrow, the path he sets out on takes him far away from the man he was and Fitchner risks losing sight of who he is, or maybe it's a case that he must be broken before be can be remade.

As a prequel to Red Rising, there's no need to have read Pierce Brown's three-volume epic (which is currently being expanded upon into its 5th book in the series). That might mean that you don't get the later significance of the Sons of Ares story, but it does give you enough of an indication of inequalities of the rigid class system and the reasons it has to be broken. It also gives you some idea of the huge difficulty anyone has doing that, which is the same thing that makes Darrow's journey in the novels such a compelling, bloody and breathless read.

The visual element of the Red Rising: Sons of Ares graphic novel is certainly helpful in making the nature of the society immediately apparent, but the structuring of the narration also helps introduce personal and social background. Working to Brown's story, Rik Hoskin's script clearly breaks down the backstory of Fitchner au Barca's struggle and rise in Gold society and runs it alongside flashback sequences that run parallel to the first operation of a small group of proto-revolutionaries the two stories dovetailing beautifully to a rationale that will lead to the formation of the Sons of Ares.

Eli Powell's artwork itself is not particularly refined, looking rough and sketchy (other than being uncoloured a gallery at the back of the collection doesn't look any different from the finished artwork), with no great accuracy or detail in facial expressions or body posture, but it captures the corrupt ugliness of the society and the grittiness of a violent underworld that gives rise to thoughts of revolution. Figures however are defined and recognisable, and even if you don't really get a sense of the hierarchical position of the different colour bands, the coloured speech-bubbles at least make their status apparent when they speak. Most importantly of all the narrative flows beautifully between past and present, heading inexorably towards a thrilling showdown.

The original six issues of Red Rising: Sons of Ares are collected into a 160-page graphic novel by Dynamite Entertainment. It's published as a hardcover and in digital format. The series transfers to digital well. On a reasonably-sized colour e-Reading device like a 9" Android tablet, each whole page can be viewed and read easily enough without requiring zooming. The collection also includes a cover gallery and concept sketches. Hardcover and digital book are published on the 7th March 2018.

Buy now from Amazon UK - Pierce Brown\s Red Rising: Sons Of Ares, where the price on the Kindle edition pre-publication is currently £3.79 instead of the RRP of £22.99.

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