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10 Operatic Books Like Red Rising

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Pierce Brown’s Red Rising series is a space opera—a genre defined by interplanetary or interstellar civilizations and, yes, an operatic tone of epic deeds—that stresses both the space and the opera in equal measure. Brown’s main cast are young and hot-headed, prone to using profanities like the excellent “glorydamn.” They’re exactly the sort of outsize personalities you want in an operatic story about the oppressed masses storming the interplanetary Bastille and setting up the futuristic guillotines. If you loved Brown’s series and its sequels and you want a little more of that glorydamn feel, read on for 10 books like Red Rising.

1. A Song of Ice and Fire, by George R. R. Martin

Both Martin’s revolutionary fantasy epic and Red Rising are centered on a power struggle. Just like Brown’s epic space opera, A Song of Ice and Fire is infused with gritty, violent realism that serves to make the fantastic stuff more visceral. The death of a King revitalizes ancient rivalries and claims to the Iron Throne, sparking a scramble of intrigue, alliance, and war. Both authors create a complex political framework for their characters to operate within, and both mine their surprising plot twists from their characters’ flaws and mistakes. And Martin matches Brown in the most important aspect of their storytelling: The operatic part. He has a knack for making his betrayals, defeats, and surprises feel like earth-shattering moments that change his world forever.

2. The Expanse, by James S.A. Corey

The Expanse begins as a mystery as the crew of an ice hauling ship respond to a distress signal and stumble onto an explosive secret that threatens the uneasy peace between the blue-collar Belters who mine the solar system’s asteroid belt and the dual military threat of Earth and the Martian Republic. Where Brown’s story is almost completely focused on the violent revolution, The Expanse follows multiple threads spearheaded by different characters. This approach slowly expands the fictional universe—quite literally when the ability to travel beyond the solar system is introduced—and gives the different layers of the story room to breathe. The result is a slower, more methodical story that’s in some ways richer and more detail-oriented.

3. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, by Robert A. Heinlein

If you come away from Red Rising and its sequels craving another story about a future extraterrestrial human society that rebels against its masters, look no further than this classic of science fiction. Set on The Moon after its colonization and narrated in a mutated form of English that incorporates “Loonie” slang, the story follows a computer technician named Mannie who becomes a leader of the rebellion against its greedy, brutal Earthbound government. Heinlein’s focus on political philosophy echoes Brown’s themes of freedom and the inherent corrupting force of power. What The Moon is a Harsh Mistress lacks in bloody spectacle it makes up for in other spectacle: One of the main weapons the Loonie’s unleash against the Earth is a series of enormous catapults that hurl huge boulders at the Earth.

4. Dune, by James Herbert

Set in a declining galactic empire composed of powerful families locked in an infinite, cold political war, Dune has all the intrigue, scheming, and violent back-stabbing that makes Red Rising such bloody fun. Fans of Darrow will find Dune’s Paul Atreides just as compelling a character. When Paul’s father is given the desert planet Arrakis—the source of invaluable melange, the substance that allows faster-than-light space travel—it should be a moment of triumph. Instead, it’s the beginning of a complex betrayal. The events set Paul on a path to becoming the most powerful man in the empire, but they also inspire an uprising on Arrakis that is just as rousing and emotionally resonant as the one documented in Red Rising.

5. Old Man’s War, by John Scalzi

One of the reasons Red Rising is so much fun is the technology Brown imagines. His tech is cool—his characters don’t just invade planets. They put on their Starshell armor and dive from low orbit in what’s called an Iron Rain. There are razors and suits of pulse armor and ghost cloaks—you can’t read the series without developing a serious case of gadget envy.

Scalzi’s fictional universe is deliberately more mundane in some ways, but it revels in the same idea of transforming yourself into a formidable warrior via technology. As mankind struggles against an array of alien races for resources and livable planets, it turns to its most experienced and knowledgeable citizens—the elderly. Transferring their minds into genetically-enhanced bodies, they combine life experience with superior physical abilities—and then give each soldier awesomely sci-fi weapons. If what you love about Red Rising is the gear, check out Old Man’s War—you won’t be disappointed.

6. The Night Angel Trilogy, by Brent Weeks

The Night Angel Trilogy is a story any fan of Red Rising will love. Brent Weeks explores the intersection of class, violence, money, and politics in much the same way Brown does—which is to say, violently, but with a complex morality that never offers easy answers. Like Darrow, Azoth is part of the lowest class in Midcyru. Born an orphan, he strives to be a “wetboy,” an assassin who uses magic to become a perfect killer. The world he’s born into is divided into different kingdoms, each with its own level of influence and power. Within each kingdom is a complex skein of political, military, and magical powers vying for dominance. There’s less focus on societal revolution than in Red Rising, but Azoth’s rise and transformation into an incredibly dangerous and potent player mirrors Darrow’s in many ways.

7. Ninefox Gambit, by Yoon Ha Lee

If you love the grandiose, operatic aspects of Red Rising but crave something a little more cerebral with a little more sci-fi, Yoon Ha Lee’s Machineries of Empire series (nominated for both the Hugo and Nebula Awards) is the perfect choice. In the interstellar empire of the Hexarchae, reality itself is governed by the shared belief of its inhabitants, beliefs grown rigid over time. But the empire is descending into chaos as a rebellious general and other factions fight for dominance—and the beliefs underpinning civilization are shifting and eroding. Lee’s main character—infantry captain Kel Cheris—starts off as a largely powerless cog in the imperial machine, but Ninefox Gambit takes a deep dive into complex concepts of mathematics, the nature of reality, and a truly alien universe. Lee offers a space opera that’s just as exciting and bombastic as Brown’s, but one that requires a little more work to get into.

8. The Sun Eater Series, by Christopher Ruocchio

The Red Rising series exemplifies the phrase “fast-paced.” After crashing through a series like that, you might want to slow it down a little—in which case The Sun Eater series by Christopher Ruocchio is the ideal contrast. Set in a far future where Earth is a dead memory and humanity has spread out among the stars, this is the story of Hadrian Marlowe. Marlowe was once heir to an empire and a hero of humanity’s war against alien invaders—and is responsible for the deaths of billions, including his own liege. Ruocchio takes his time with a story that has all the space battles, violent betrayals, and slick worldbuilding of Red Rising combined with a deeper philosophical backdrop. The mystery of how Hadrian claws his way back from loss only to become the greatest criminal in an entire galaxy brings a tone of tragedy that Brown’s series avoids, but also lends the story unexpected power.

9. The Heechee Series, by Frederick Pohl

Frederick Pohl’s Heechee series is set in a future where humanity has reached tentatively into space only to find the deserted remnants of a much more advanced civilization. Pohl’s fictional universe is one where the wealthy can live nearly forever in comfort while the poor have to gamble their lives just to survive. An alien space station called Gateway holds thousands of pre-programmed alien ships, so people volunteer to get in and see where they go. Some lead the explorers to instant death. Some lead them to incredible wealth. Eventually, one man wins big at this horrifying lottery and uses his new wealth and power to change society around him. Pohl’s universe is a less violent, more idea-focused story, but the overall themes and exploration of power dynamics are satisfyingly similar to Red Rising.

10. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, by N.K. Jemisin

For fans of Red Rising who love the series for the larger-than-life, godlike characters, Jemisin’s Hundred Thousand Kingdoms series is the perfect follow-up. Jemisin’s characters are gods, gods who were defeated and enslaved by the ruling Arameri who now use them as powerful weapons. Yeine is heir to the Arameri throne but is totally estranged from her family. She finds herself navigating the intrigues of both the court and the gods themselves when she’s recalled to the city of Sky by her grandfather.

Jemisin’s series is a fantasy, not a space opera, but it has the same epic feel and characters. Like Darrow, Yeine starts off at an extreme disadvantage, disdained by those who consider themselves her betters—but like Darrow, she has hidden reserves of strength, and her decisions slowly reshape an entire world. In terms of tone and sheer fun, Jemisin’s gods and godlings match Brown’s Golds and Howlers, and her storytelling is on the same epic frequency.

About Author

Jeff Somers (www.jeffreysomers.com) was born in Jersey City, New Jersey and regrets nothing. He is the author of nine novels, a book on the craft of writing, and numerous short stories. His guitar playing is a plague upon his household and his lovely wife The Duchess is convinced he would die if left to his own devices.

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