Morning Star by Pierce Brown

morning-starIt’s the moment you’ve all (not actually) been waiting for – what did I think of the conclusion to Pierce Brown’s Red Rising trilogy? Drumroll, please.

Okay, it was amazing. What did you honestly expect?

Morning Star picks up shortly after Golden Son left off, with Darrow imprisoned by the Jackal and slowly going insane. Fortunately, the Sons of Ares, now led by Sevro, Ragnar and the Howlers, show up to break Darrow out. From there, the book races around the solar system, from the polar caps of Mars to the moons of Jupiter and back to Luna, as Darrow forges alliances and fights battles – culminating in a showdown on Luna with the Sovereign and the Jackal that you won’t soon forget.

Brown does a lot of excellent character work here. We have Darrow, recovering from his brush with death and insanity, no longer invulnerable and no longer as ready to die as he once was. His friendships were one of his major struggles in the previous book, and here we see Darrow finally getting it right. He has it out with Sevro to save his friend from a destructive path, he re-builds his relationship with Mustang and he gets re-acquainted with his family. At last, Darrow’s friendships build him up instead of tearing him apart internally (and, in the case of Roque, externally).

Speaking of Roque – whew, talk about a tragic character. Roque is the mini-boss of this novel, if you will, framed by the larger villains of the Jackal and the Sovereign. Not surprisingly, then, he is dealt with about midway through the novel in brutal fashion, and his end is tragic, heartbreaking and somehow honorable – a fitting demise for the man with the poet’s soul.

Sevro is also a big focal point, in part because of what he becomes after his father’s death and Darrow’s capture – a semi-suicidal, end-justifies-the-means war leader. After Darrow and Sevro hash it out, Sevro relaxes back into the devil-may-care attitude of previous novels – and he even gets a happy ending. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – Sevro is Darrow’s most loyal friend, and this novel will leave you with no doubt of that.

But perhaps my favorite storyline was Cassius. Yes, Cassius is back, and he is forced to acknowledge that Darrow isn’t the monster he so desperately wanted him to be. Darrow rescues him from death and manages to rekindle the dregs of their friendship, enough for Cassius to redeem himself and play his part in the rebellion. Like Roque, he too is a tragic figure, but more world-weary and tired. I was overjoyed that he didn’t fall flat into another obstacle for Darrow.

The girls are still here, though unfortunately the story doesn’t focus on them quite as much. Mustang’s connections and diplomacy open a lot of doors for Darrow, and Victra is still as badass as ever (maybe more so). Seriously, that chick is my hero (and if a movie of this does get made, I will cosplay the hell out of her).

The character work isn’t perfect though – Darrow begins to grate about midway through the novel as he second guesses himself and doubts in the world he’s building. It gets somewhat redundant, but the action sequences usually rescue him before it gets too depressing. And damn, can Brown write action sequences. Man’s got a gift.

I won’t spoil anything, but prepare yourself for some sucker punches. There’s one about halfway through that made me tear up a little, and you’ll get another (happy) one near the end. They’re well-spaced and well-written, and there weren’t any events that seemed out of character or made me raise an eyebrow.

Overall, it’s a fitting conclusion to the series. I did, however, find myself preferring Golden Son – I think the middle book had more power and more weight because Darrow had everything to lose and everything to prove. Here, he’s come out of the bottom of his arc and, while he still has plenty to lose, his actions feel a bit like a foregone conclusion – I know he will win, and I know he will end up with Mustang. The stakes don’t seem as high, for some reason.

Don’t mistake me though – Morning Star is an EXCELLENT book, one of the best I’ve read this year. The flaws it does have are minimal and easily overlooked. Brown delivers in a big way, and you’ll definitely be satisfied with it.

P.S. I’ve heard Brown is working on a sequel series to explore how the effects of this one ripple through the solar system…so YAY.

Grade: 4.75/5

Memorable Quote

“I’m tired of this war, Darrow.”
”So am I. And if I could bring Julian back to you, I would. But this war is for him, or men like him. The decent. It’s for the quiet and gentle who know how the world should be, but can’t shout louder than the bastards.”
”Aren’t you afraid you’re going to break everything and not be able to put it back together?” [Cassius] asks sincerely.
”Yes,” I say, understanding myself better than I have for a long time. “That’s why I have Mustang.”
He stares at me for a long, odd moment before shaking his head and chuckling at himself or me. “I wish it was easier to hate you.”

— Morning Star, pg. 401

-Regina

Originally posted on Regina’s personal blog

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Golden Son by Pierce Brown

golden-son

I have this theory I call “middle book syndrome,” which basically states that the middle novel of a trilogy is inherently in danger of becoming nothing more than a set-up for the third book – that it will lack a proper plot of its own and become a dragging plod from start to finish. It’s the mark of a good author to avoid this, but I’m always leery when I pick up the second book of a series.

In this case, though – damn, sir. You knocked it out of the park, and my hat’s off to you.

Golden Son starts some time after the events of Red Rising. Our hero Darrow is leading war strategy, but he loses his final match to the brother of Cassius – something his patron, the ArchGovernor of Mars, cannot abide. To save his hide from the Bellonas, Darrow makes an uneasy alliance with his former enemy the Jackal and declares war upon the Sovereign in the name of the ArchGovernor. The story follows that war, from Darrow & Co’s harrowing escape from Luna through war councils and raids and culminating in an Iron Rain on Mars itself. Darrow rises so high, only to have his knees swept out from him at the end.

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A scene this book made me think of often

First off, let me address what I saw as the main problem of Red Rising – the female characters. Thankfully, Brown does a much better job handling those characters here than he did in Red Rising. Mustang mercifully does not get damseled again – in fact, she actually has some agency of her own in trying to protect her family. Victra gets introduced in this book, and she is a whirlwind – in love with Darrow, but not pining over him, she is loyal, smart and vicious when she needs to be. There is still a blatant female death, but it serves more purpose than just to spur Darrow on – it is one of the first events to drive a wedge between Darrow and one of his friends, a theme that builds throughout the novel. Overall, I’m much happier on this front and can happily give this book the rating I’m going to.

While we’re on character, let’s chat about the other characters. Darrow grows a bit more here. Just like Red Rising, the steady thrum of Darrow’s motivation pulses throughout the novel. In fact, it’s even heavier here due to a heartbreaking revelation Darrow receives early on. This is an older Darrow, who has learned much from his experiences, but who hasn’t yet figured out how to open up to his friends. He makes a lot of progress on this over the course of the novel, and yet his mistakes in this area are his undoing.

Two of my favorites from Red Rising are still here as well in strong supporting roles – Sevro and Roque. Sevro in particular is a wonder in this book, getting far more stage time and far more depth than he did previously. His Howlers continue to be the difference between life and death for Darrow, and we get another revelation concerning Sevro toward the end of the novel, one that explains a lot about him. Roque, meanwhile, earns his stripes as a space commander, seemingly at odds with his poetic attitude toward life.

There are also several new characters – we see the ArchGovernor in detail, learning more about his motives and humanizing him without un-villainizing him. Victra, I’ve already mentioned. Darrow acquires an Obsidian retainer, whose journey from slavish adoration of Darrow to willing partner and friend makes a nice subplot, and we also meet the much-mentioned Lorn au Arcos, former Rage Knight, who serves as a wise mentor figure for Darrow. All of these are welcome additions to the novel, adding more depth and color (hah – get it?) to the story.

Now that the serious stuff is past us, let’s talk about the fun stuff – holy action sequences, Batman! This novel contains some of the most exciting action set-pieces I’ve read, particularly Darrow and Sevro’s desperate, last-ditch and SUCCESSFUL attempt to jettison themselves aboard a spaceship and take control. The Iron Rain on Mars would be a close second. Brown describes all of this very well; it’s easy to picture it, even feel it, as you’re reading. Movie adaptations can go horribly, horribly wrong, but I’d love to see those scenes on the big screen someday.

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Me, reading this book (hair and all)

So you won’t be surprised when I tell you that this book moves, even more than Red Rising did. Brown has a knack for removing the boring bits, pushing logistics off-screen to the Jackal and jumping ahead a few weeks here and there to avoid the plot stagnating. It feels effortless, and you barely notice it, but it keeps the plot hammering forward.

Saying all that to say this – Golden Son was better thanRed Rising, and I highly recommend it and I look forward to the series’ conclusion. Morning Star arrived in the mail this morning, so I can’t wait to see where that cliffhanger ending goes!

Grade: 5/5

Memorable Quote

““You were not strong enough then,” Harmony says. “Are you strong enough now, Helldiver?” I look at her, tears blurring my sight. Her hard eyes soften for me. “I had children, once. Radiation ate their insides, and they didn’t even give them pain meds. Didn’t even fix the leak. Said there weren’t enough resources. My husband just sat there and watched them die. In the end, the same thing took him. He was a good man. But good men die. To free them, to protect them, we must be savages. So give me evil. Give me darkness. Make me the bloodydamn devil if we can bring even the faintest ray of light.”
I stand and wrap my arms around her as I’m reminded of the true horrors our kind face. Had I really forgotten? I am a child of hell, and I’ve spent too long in their heaven.”

— Golden Son, pg. 81

-Regina

Originally appeared on Regina’s blog

Red Rising

red-rising

What do you get when you cross Battle Royale and Ender’s Game and then set them on Mars for good measure? Red Rising, that’s what.

This book sucker punches you with its opening (see below) and then just keeps running. It’s very much in the same vein as The Hunger Games, but with added class warfare. The main character, Darrow is a Red on Mars – the lowest of the low. But after his wife dies, he joins with a rebellious organization to take down the tiered society and creates re-created as a Gold. He tests in and gets sent to their elite academy, which pits the students against each other in war games to teach them hardship.

Red Rising is paced exceptionally well; the plot never drags, and it’s the kind of novel that you want to consume all in one sitting (which is totally doable). It zooms through the opening, the book-equivalent of a training montage, Darrow’s entry into Gold society and then dives into the meat of the book – the war games.

And Darrow is the kind of hero who is basically impossible to dislike, even when he does really awful things like straight-up murder Cassius’s brother Julian to make it through his initiation or bail on his House and let them fall under the thumb of a brutal leader. The story is written in first person, so you never forget that opening sucker punch, which sets up his motivation and thrums underneath the surface of the rest of the novel. He is, ultimately, sympathetic, because we all have to wonder what kinds of horrible things we would be capable of if we were in his shoes. On top of that, he doesn’t actively try to be a bad person, and he becomes a rallying point for many of his comrades.

The rest of the characters aren’t bad either. Cassius is a nice foil to Darrow, the light to Darrow’s occasional darkness at the beginning, which reverses as the novel progresses. Sevro and Roque were particular favorites as well; Darrow wouldn’t have succeeded in the war games without Sevro, who proves to be his truest and best lieutenant. And what’s a book without a good villain? The Jackal is pretty terrifying, especially when you learn how he earned his name, and he’s not out of the series by any means.

The world is fully realized and fascinating – I was drinking in the mentions of all the different color castes and all the different planets and moons that have been colonized. It feels bigger than the story, which is always the goal for a novel like this one. It’s also got a distinctly Roman feel, given the names of some of the characters (Cassius, Titus, Sevro) and the prominent usage of the Roman gods. Sure, it’s definitely very stereotypical dystopia (I mean, it’s called the Society, for heaven’s sake) and you’ve seen it before, but there are enough original twists to make it fun to read.

I’ve got to take points off for the treatment of women in this novel though. I was mad as hell that Eo died only to spur Darrow on and BEYOND angry that Mustang (who is a pretty cool character and takes care of herself for most of the novel) gets DAMSELED toward the end of the novel to once again spur Darrow on. And we’re not even going to talk about the rapes or the straight-up murder-for-no-good-reason of one of the other female characters. This book has no time for its females except insofar as they serve to motivate Darrow. It’s annoying as hell, because I liked this book SO MUCH and I would have liked it so much more if its female characters actually had some agency of their own.

That was my only major quibble with the book though – otherwise, this book kicked ass. I can’t wait to readGolden Sun and Morning Star, and I’ve got my fingers crossed that the author figures out how to write a female character properly somewhere in those two books – because if he can work that out, he’s got a bright future.

Grade: 4/5

Memorable Quote:

“The first thing you should know about me is I am my father’s son. And when they came for him, I did as he asked. I did not cry. Not when the Society televised his arrest. Not when the Golds tried him. Not when the Grays hanged him. Mother hit me for that. My brother Kieran was supposed to be the stoic one. He was the elder, I the younger. I was supposed to cry. Instead, Kieran bawled like a girl when Little Eo tucked a haemanthus into Father’s left workboot and ran back to her own father’s side. My sister Leanna murmured a lament beside me. I just watched and thought it a shame that he died dancing but without his dancing shoes.

On Mars there is not much gravity. So you have to pull the feet to break the neck. They let the loved ones do it.”

— Red Rising, pg. 3

-Regina

Originally appeared on Regina’s blog