Darrow is a Red, a miner of the planet Mars. He is one of the pioneers, who are getting Mars ready for the rest of the human race’s habitation. He and his wife are hanged for a small infraction. Except, Darrow does not die, but is drugged and saved. He is recruited by the Sons of Ares in a mission to topple the ruling Society of Mars, which has been lying to the Reds for generations. The whole Solar System has been habitable for centuries now. Darrow infiltrates the Institute, a school for young Golds, in disguise as a Gold. They are put through a series of brutal and cruel tests. Darrow wins, and takes up a position as the apprentice of the Arch Governor, the most powerful person in Mars.
What went down
- Darrow and the other Lambdas work hard to mine the most helium 3, so that they can win the Laurel, the box of luxurious imports from Earth that will help them feed their people better. They are confident that they will get it this time. But when they announce the winner, the Laurel goes to the Gammas.
- Darrow’s wife, Eo, takes him to a garden on the surface (which is forbidden to them) through a ventilation shaft in the Webbery, and they spend the night there. Eo urges Darrow to fight against the Society that rules over them, depriving them of life’s little pleasures and keeping away from them what they deserve.
- As they are returning they are caught by the Greys, and taken into custody. The punishment is forty eight lashes. After Darrow receives his lashes, it is Eo’s turn, and after a few lashes from the belts, she begins to sing the forbidden song – one of death, and of things lost, and of rebellion. It means death to whoever sings it, and Eo is hanged by order of the Arch Governor. Just before she’s hanged, she says something to her sister, Dio.
- They are supposed to leave the hanged where they are until they are skeletons as a lesson to the others, but that night, Darrow sneaks out, cuts Eo down and buries her in the garden they spent they’re last night together. On the way, he meets Uncle Narol who doesn’t stop him, but gives him some of his wine.
- The next morning, the Greys come for Darrow – to hang him for cutting down his wife’s body. He is hanged in front of all the Reds.
- But when he wakes up, he isn’t on the Other Side, but buried under the Earth. As in, not dead. He digs his way out to find himself in an abandoned mine shaft.
- Sometime later, a tumbler comes carrying people who drag him inside. Inside are two people of the Sons of Ares – Harmony and Ralph. They take him to Dancer, who helped save Darrow’s life. The Sons of Ares know of him through his uncle, who is the one who drugged him and cut him down.
- After giving Darrow a mental test, which he passes, Dancer takes Darrow to a viewing deck on the surface of the planet. Darrow sees a whole, well developed city with humans. Dancer tells him the true version of history. The Reds have been lied to all their lives. Mars, along with most of the Solar System has been terraformed and is inhabited. It has been for several centuries, since the Conquering.
- Darrow agrees to fight for the Sons of Ares cause – to bring down the Society. He is taken to Mickey the Carver (an artist/morbid plastic surgeon), who, after months and months of surgery, therapy, and training transforms Darrow into a Gold – a highly superior race of human beings.
- Darrow takes the Institute’s admission test and aces it, getting only 1 question incorrect. It is the highest score ever received. The new students are taken to the Institute in Agea, Mars’ capital, where they are divided into twelve Houses. Darrow is placed in House Mars.
- The first test is The Passage, which is basically a culling – by death. The top half of students kill the bottom half in a one-to-one match to death. Darrow kills Julian, a sweet boy he befriended, who comes from the elite Bellona family. Julian’s elder brother, Cassius, is also a fellow student.
- The next set of tests takes place in a valley away from Agea, where the Houses are expected to make war with each other until one finally emerges as the victor. They are mostly left to fend for themselves, except when their house Proctor brings them any little provision. While the Proctors watch the game from a floating mountain, Olympus, it is also broadcast to the outsiders with a half-day delay for editing.
- But before Mars begins to conquer other houses they need to establish unity within their own, which proves to be a losing battle. House Mars fragments into four tribes, headed by Darrow & Cassius, Titus, Antonia and Servo.
- Titus’s tribe engages with House Cerus, and captures slaves, whom they severely torture and abuse. After a month of this, Darrow hatches a plan to put to stop to Titus’ brutality.
- He and Cassius travel far east, where they have an encounter with House Minerva, and use them to hit at Titus, and then drive them away before they can conquer their house. After, although their house is together again, there is still the matter of Titus’ crimes.
- When Darrow goes to interrogate him, Titus slips up and Darrow discovers that he is a Red under disguise as a Gold, just like him. Darrow knows that Titus is a threat to him and any other Reds who may be disguised like them. His poor control could expose them all anytime. He orders his execution. Cassius requests the right to kill Titus as he believes it is he who killed his brother. But Titus’ death does not lift the morale of House Mars, but only results in an uneasy alliance between the tribes.
- In order to defeat House Minerva, House Red allies with House Diana. However, once Minerva is captured, Diana turns on Mars. House Mars waits them out and defeat them. House Minerva’s Primus, Virginia, is the only one who escapes with their house’s standard.
- The Jackal, the Arch Governor’s son, wants Darrow’s head. He sends Cassius a ‘gift’ to tempt him to give Darrow up. In the meantime, Roque, Darrow & Cassius’ close friend if captured by some dissenters. He is most likely dead.
- Everyone expects Darrow to get the Primus title for all his victories. However, Cassius finds out from the Jackal’s gift that it is Darrow who killed his brother. He draws him out of Castle Mars and in the ensuing duel, Darrow is speared in the belly and left in the snow to die.
- Virginia saves his life. They grow close. Virginia shares with Darrow her novel approach to leadership, which involves the whole group working together as a whole, rather than a meritocracy.
- Soon after, Virginia grows sick. Fitchner, House Mars’ Proctor, gives Darrow some medicine for her. He also tells him of a conspiracy that most of the Proctors are in on – the Jackal must win this year. And Darrow is the only real threat to him. The Proctors of House Apollo and Jupiter especially, will so anything to eliminate Darrow.
- Darrow decides to bring down Houses and Apollo and Jupiter first, as if every student of a house is defeated, it’s Proctor will have to leave Olympus and the game. But before he can go after them, he needs an army. Darrow gathers an army of Oathbreakers and freed Minerva soldiers by storming Castle Mars. Then he marches on House Ceres with his troop. He wins.
- That night, Tactus of House Diana attempts to rape a Ceres slave, Nyla. Darrow knows he cant do the same thing he did with Titus, as that created more enmity. So he gives Tactus twenty lashes, and then asks him to whip him back, as he is responsible for whatever his army does. Their sins are his sins. This earns Darrow his army’s undying loyalty.
- Darrow reveals the conspiracy of the game to his lieutenants. They go after House Apollo. Their Proctor makes an attempt on Darrow’s life, but fails, as Servo, Darrow’s old friend, comes to his rescue. Servo and his Howlers join Darrow’s army.
- Apollo then comes down to threaten Darrow and his lieutenants, but they don’t budge, and threaten to expose him. In the time that Apollo and his cronies spent threatening them, Servo runs to Castle Apollo and starts the assault, along with Tactus.
- Soon after House Apollo is captured, Fitchner comes to speak with Darrow. He reveals that Apollo hasn’t left Olympus despite his house losing. He also warns him that Virginia is a trap, and urges Darrow to leave the Jackal alone. Darrow finds out that Servo is Fitchner’s son.
- They find out that House Juno has already been conquered by House Jupiter. That night, they march on House Jupiter, and lay siege to the castle. Their army is away fighting Mars with just a few defenders left behind. Three weeks into the siege, a boy named Lucian comes out to say House Jupiter surrenders.
- Once they gain entry to the castle, Darrow tricks Lucian and exposes him as the Jackal, of Pluto. He traps him by sticking a blade through his hand and pinning him to a table. While he questions him, he gives him a knife and tells the Jackal that he is free to go if he can cut himself free.
- The Jackal cuts his own hand to free himself. In the ensuing chaos, the Proctors come to his aid. They throw him a sonic bomb that he detonates. He then goes after Darrow with the knife, but Pax, one of Darrow’s trusted soldiers throws himself in front of Darrow, and sacrifices his life. Darrow and the Howlers go after the Jackal.
- While one Proctor Venus is assisting the Jackal to flee, Proctor Apollo halts their pursue, and tells them that he has taken Virginia. He warns them to leave the Jackal alone for now, and loose in their next encounter, if they want to see her again.
- Darrow becomes wild, and kills Apollo. He then takes his weapons, armour and Gravboots for himself and his army. Darrow and the Howlers fly up to Olympus and lay siege to it. They neutralize all the Proctors they find. Servo is sent to bring in the rest of their army.
- They find Virginia, and Darrow sends her with half his army to capture the Jackal, who should be easy to defeat now that all his help is gone.
- He sends Servo to edit the recordings of the recent incidents in the game, and goes to question Fitchner. Fitchner reveals that Virginia is the Jackal’s twin sister, and has most likely gone to help him.
- Darrow knows he has to replenish the numbers of his army before the Augustus twins come. He goes after his own house. He finds that House Mars has fallen into chaos and severely poor conditions. He frees all the slaves, and his house members are overjoyed to see him, as they know the truth of what Cassius did. Roque lives, and embraces him as a brother.
- Cassius is the only one who does not come out to see Darrow. He is now Primus. Darrow goes to see him in the war room. Cassius concedes Darrow’s right to be Primus, but declares a blood feud against him for killing Julian, and promises that the next time they see each other, only one will leave with his life.
- Darrow takes his army to the Jackal. He sends Milia and a few other of his lieutenants in front to scout. Virginia comes back along with Milia. She has the Jackal – Adrius au Augustus with her, and presents him to Darrow, bound and gagged.
How did it end?
Arch Governor Augustus, Imperators Bellona and Adriatus and a host of other dignitaries arrive in a flurry. Darrow, as the undisputed champion is given a pin. And then they are dispersed. Several of the personalities are waiting to offer Darrow an apprentice, but the Arch Governor approaches him first. In return for Darrow’s silence about the corruption in the game, he offers Darrow an apprentice and promises him the best connections, riches, a place in his house; pretty much anything he asks for. Darrow assures him that neither he nor his friends have plans of revealing that Adrius had help from his father (he knows the value of having a powerful personality in his debt). He accepts his offer to be his apprentice, and swears his fealty to him.
The Conquering: The Golds were at first humans who were sent to Luna (the moon) 700 years ago. Reds were sent to Mars to mine for fuel – Helium 3, which was used to terraform the rest of the Solar System. The Golds of Luna rebelled against Earth, which they felt was just a drain on their resources. They decided to leave the Reds under Mar’s surface to continue mining. Since then, the Society has been in power, and slowly, have terraformed and expanded to the rest of the Solar System.
The Society: consists of the elite Golds who rule the Solar System. Includes the Sovereign Consul, Octavia au Lune, the Arch Governor, Imperators, and other Peerless Scarred
Imperator: A commander of a fleet
Praetor: A commander of a squadron within a fleet
Governors: the rulers of the thousand cities on Mars
Arch Governor: the one who presides over all the other Governors; the most powerful man on Mars
Sons of Ares: projected as terrorists by the Society, but in truth are a super secret rebel group working to bring down the Society
Agea: the capital city of Mars
Gold: a superior race of humans who rule the Solar System, marked by their Sigil – two golden wings
Grays: the garrison troops who enforce the law, and ensure obedience to the hierarchy
Whites: philosophers, and those who arbitrate justice
Silver: those who manipulate currency and logistics
Obsidians: elite soldiers – monstrously sized men and women bred solely for the purpose of being warriors
Pink: pleasure givers
Greens: technology developers
Blues: those who navigate the stars
Coppers: those who run the beaurocracy
Yellows: those who study science and medicine
Reds: the lowest order of the Colors, which consists of miners and other menial workers
High Reds: maintenance workers, sanitation workers, grain harvesters, assembly workers, etc.
Low Reds: miners living below Mar’s surface
Laurel: a prize for the most result-producing clan of the 24 clans in the mining colony of Lykos, which includes several luxuries like medicines and sufficient food
Lambda: one of the clans of Lykos (Darrow’s clan)
Gamma: one of the clans of Lykos
Webbery: a huge nest of webs, basically, where bioSilk is harvested
Institute: A school for Golds, the future rulers of the galaxy
Houses: the students of the Institute are divided into 12 houses loosely based on personality traits, and named for the gods of the Roman pantheon
Primus: the head of a House. A position earned by getting five bars, each a bounty for an act of merit
Proctor: Peerless Scarred chosen by the Arch Governor for each house, to teach and represent the students of the House within the Institute
Olympus: an artificial floating mountain where the Proctors watch each year’s class
Peerless Scarred: top graduates of the Institute who have surpassed all the tests set by the Institute; the ones who can ascend in society
Graduates: also top graduates of the Institute, but their prospects are relatively limited, and they must earn their scars
Shamed: the poorest performing graduates of the Institutes, those who have disobeyed express orders when Slaves
Slave: members of other houses who have been captured. A slave is made when the standard of the captor’s House is pressed against the forehead of the captive. Pressing the standard against the slave’s forehead a second time would free him.
Oathbreaker: the Shamed who have broken their vows after being enslaved
Howlers: Servo’s band of fighters, characterized by the small stature and wicked disposition
Gravboots: Boots that allow the wearer to float