Because all of life is stories.
***This Review Is Not Spoiler Free***
***You Have Been Warned***
So my heart still hurts a week after finishing this damn thing. This bloodydamn wonderful and amazing freaking thing. I’m still not sure how to write this, what to focus on. Suffice it to say, Morning Star will happily take its place as the Return of the Jedi of this trilogy, both in terms of resolutions, emotional impact, catharsis, number in the series, etc. Golden Son was most definitely the Empire Strikes Back of the series, and Morning Star follows it up brilliantly.
We left Darrow at the end of the penultimate installment, well, screwed. Allies scattering, dead, or in the midst of betrayal. His identity exposed. Drugged and at the mercy of all who would harm him in the world. I spent a year wondering how in the hell Brown would get Darrow out of this. The actual “getting Darrow out of this” ensures that Morning Star has by far the quickest and most exciting start of any of the novels, and takes us one a ride that escalates and expands upon everything we’ve come to know and love from Brown.
Darrow is introduced stuck in a box. He’s sat in the darkness for months, not eating or drinking or even unfolding to stretch his limbs and muscles which have begun to atrophy. A feeding tube keeps him alive. He’s had ample time to think about his mistakes, how he hid his identity from his friends, how he endangered his family. Slowly, he is going mad. When a desperate rescue attempt reunites him with the Sons of Ares Darrow is not who he once was. The passionate and frightening Reaper is gone, replaced by a more introspective Darrow, one who is disillusioned with the war he fights, or perhaps just more of a pragmatist. And he isn’t the only one who has changed.
Sevro struggles under the mantle of Ares, having taken up the role since the death of the original Ares, his father. Mustang has fled to the Outer Rim, waging war as best she can with the help of Orion and the ever phenomenal Telemanuses. Victra is overcoming months of torture and isolation at the hands of Adrius au Augustus, the infamous Jackal. The newest generation of Peerless Scarred it seems is growing old and worn before their time.
But all hope is not lost. The Sons still fight the good fight, hidden under the surface of Mars with the help of unexpected friends and allies. Ragnar has had spies and trusted Obsidian allies spread the truth throughout the Obsidian Peaks. The Moon Lords of the Outer Rim stand as uneasy allies against Octavia au Lune and her cadre of Olympic Knights and Core fanatics. The board has been set for months, waiting for a tip in the scales.
Darrow is ready to send them crashing down.
The space battles are breathtaking, operatic I’ve heard them described as. Some of them just as mad and surprising as his original insane plans of hiding Howlers in horse corpses. The stakes have never been higher, as the Core’s Sword Armada threatens to bring the Rim back in to line and the Jackal’s nefarious plans move toward fruition. Meanwhile, the potential of another Rhea looms over the heads of all.
It is in this untenable situation that Pierce Brown shines. He’s a master at directing attention. When I’m supposed to be worried about the impending beheadings of most of the main characters, I am. When I’m supposed to be focused on the explosions and dying starships, I am. And when I’m supposed to be forgetting everything outside of a small ship’s galley, characters eating stolen pasta, I do. When two great enemies share a drink and mourn a mutual friend and a life of friendship lost, everything else falls to the side. While the most talked about parts of this series are likely destined to be the most outlandish and exhilarating set pieces, the quiet moments, the glimpses of jokes shared between family, the pieces with heart, carry weight beyond measure.
Brown has spent two thirds of this series pulling strings, knotting them together, winding them tight around each other to the point of snapping. In Morning Star the strings are cut. Plot lines and character arcs resolve in ways that were likely inevitable, but always surprising. And when the climax begins to build, Brown does what he does best and keeps the book moving at full throttle until he smashes us into the conclusion like a fist into the brittle bones of an enemies face.
For all its bravado, all its drama and unpolished bits, the Red Rising trilogy is something unlike anything I’ve ever read. Of course, the component pieces have been done before. It has shades of John Scalzi and Lois McMaster Bujold and David Weber sticking out of it all over the place. But it is greater than the sum of its parts. Its a space opera and political drama and dystopian nightmare for the ages. And it’s only Brown’s first series. I know he’s going back to the well for Iron Gold next, but I can’t wait to see what kind of surprises he throws our way next.