Red Rising is, starting simply, a very good read. It's smart, doesn't pull any punches, and grips the attention effectively. It turned out to be very hard to put down.
The text follows a young man called Darrow, who works beneath the surface of Mars as a `Helldiver', digging into the crust of the planet to get at the valuable materials needed within, as part of a centuries-long terraforming effort. Life is harsh and brutal, but in the service of a greater goal. But over the course of the first part of the novel, all of Darrow's preconceptions about his society, its structure and purpose, are abruptly challenged.
There are two real stars in this text. The first is Darrow, of whom more in a moment. The other is this society of future-Mars. It's incredibly well drawn and believable. Possibly not very likable, but believable. Appropriately, there seems to be a strong classical theme running through the text; the Martian elite, in particular, strongly evoke the Roman senatorial class. Each section of the society is, at least briefly, shown, and (particularly for the lower and higher ends of the spectrum) their customs and social mores explored in some depth. The author seems to have set out to build a fully functional society (if a rather brutal one), and has succeeded. As a world, it draws the reader in, and then doesn't let go.
The other star of the text is Darrow, the protagonist - a teenager brought up in the harsh lower levels of Mars; strong, clever, and willing to take risks, a boy with a wild temper, but also shown to have a great affection for those closes to him. It's the flaws in Darrow's character that make him stand out from other protagonists in the same vein (Katniss et al.); his confusion, sudden rages, and impulses of affection ring very true. Over the course of the text, though, the reader sees him change, and grow as he fits (and is flung) into various situations - some of this growth is for the better, some of it...not so much. But at all turns, as a protagonist, Darrow is consistent within himself, but also changes as situations make their mark - much like a real person.
The supporting characters aren't as well drawn as Darrow, but as the text is written in the first person, that may be intentional - the reader, as Darrow, doesn't have access to the thoughts and feelings of those around them. However, where given the opportunity, these other characters do shine - they aren't simple caricatures - but it would have been nicer to have been given a view on some of the depths of character hinted at through the text.
Overall, this is a great book, and a pleasure to read. It's often violent, but never compromises on the consequences. The characters are often unpleasant, but they grow and change over the text - and they, too, live with consequences. The comparisons to The Hunger Games are perhaps inevitable, but I think a more apt comparison might be Ender's Game - in spirit, if not in setting.
At any rate this is a book which is both a page turning, thrill a minute reed, and a rather more reflective piece on society and our roles within it. Absolutely worth reading.