Darrow is the Helldiver of Lycos. A miner in the depths of Mars, Darrow and his fellow "Reds" harvest the mineral needed to terraform and colonize Mars. Their world is a harsh one, but it's the life they were born to, members of the lowest caste in a strict caste-based society ruled by Golds. But Darrow's wife Eo dreams of a better life, a life with more justice, more freedom, more choices. She dies a martyr in a simple act of rebellion, after urging Darrow to fight for better. Still reeling from his grief and anger, Darrow is kidnapped by the Sons of Ares, a rebel group intent on fighting against the caste system and rule of the Gods. He learns that the world he thought he knew was nothing but a lie intent on keeping the Reds docile slaves. But the rebels have a plan for their angry young miner: turn him into a God and send him to the Institute that trains the Peerless Golds, the elite among the ruling class. Put himself in a position to lead a revolution, not just a rebellion. So Darrow becomes what he hates, his rage fueling him as he enters the Institute, a glorified war game whose purpose is to teach and harden the best and brightest of the soft aristocrats. Darrow begins to learn that life as a Gold is more complicated than he thought. He makes enemies and even friends, and learns that their "school" isn't all that it seems. And in the process becomes truly Peerless.
It was an interesting experience reading this book. As I told my book group, at times I was simultaneously bored and glued to the page. To be fair, dystopian fiction in general isn't really my jam, but I thought maybe it was more than that, so I tried to break it down a bit. The things that didn't work for me: the writing at the beginning felt a little flat and one-note. It's very dramatic and supposed to be heartbreaking, but I just didn't feel it. And it took me a while to really get interested in Darrow as a character. I felt at the beginning that he was just kind of a one-note guy. Talented and handsome and angry and abused. Blah, blah, blah. BUT...ultimately, the were a lot of things that did work for me: For one thing, if Darrow was kind of a flat character for me at first, some of the secondary characters that show up began to breath life into the world, and they began to make Darrow more interesting too. In addition, I really enjoyed the world that the author created. The authors nicely sets up the evolution for this reality -- you can see how the world got from point A (our reality) to point B. The world is heavily influenced by the structure of the Roman pantheon and culture, which I found creative. I also liked the plot, and it's the plot that kept me going past my initial ho-hum reaction. It was exciting and dark and brutal, and I just really wanted to know what happened. Which means I'm definitely going to get my hands on the next book Golden Son.
Bottom line: a solid dystopian novel with an exciting plot and interesting world. Definitely worth a try.