Darrow’s final adventure comes ot a triuphant close in Morning Star by Pierce Brown.
Title: Morning Star
Written by Pierce Brown
Genre: Speculative Fiction, Science Fiction
Publisher: Del Rey
Publication Date: February 2016
Hardcover: 518 pages
Darrow would have lived in peace, but his enemies brought him war. The Gold overlords demanded his obedience, hanged his wife, and enslaved his people. But Darrow is determined to fight back. Risking everything to transform himself and breach Gold society, Darrow has battled to survive the cutthroat rivalries that breed Society’s mightiest warriors, climbed the ranks, and waited patiently to unleash the revolution that will tear the hierarchy apart from within.
Finally, the time has come.
But devotion to honor and hunger for vengeance run deep on both sides. Darrow and his comrades-in-arms face powerful enemies without scruple or mercy. Among them are some Darrow once considered friends. To win, Darrow will need to inspire those shackled in darkness to break their chains, unmake the world their cruel masters have built, and claim a destiny too long denied – and too glorious to surrender.
Stand alone or series: Book 3 in the Red Rising Trilogy
How did I get this book: Bought
Format (e- or p-): Print Book
**WARNING: This review contains mild unavoidable spoilers for Red Rising and Golden Son. If you have not read book 1 and wish to remain unspoiled, LOOK AWAY.**
Darrow has fallen.
The Reaper, Darrow au Andromedus, has been exposed for what he is–a Red, the lowest of the low, who dared challenge the system by becoming a flesh-carved Gold. Masquerading as an elite, passing entrance and emerging the victor of the illustrious Academy, Darrow has risen to the god-like status of the Peerless Scarred; a Gold Warlord adopted by one of the most powerful families in the solar system. All that changes, however, when Darrow’s true nature and his goal to overthrow the hegemony of Gold is revealed.
Reaper no more, Golden Son of the house of Andromedus no more, the infallible warlord victor of the Academy is reduced to his humble beginnings as Darrow of Lykos. Imprisoned by The Jackal, left for dead by the Sons of Ares, and abandoned by Mustang, Darrow’s world has become the solitary, silent darkness of his tomb-like cell. For months he rots in this prison, growing ever weaker of body and broken of spirit.
But that’s not the end of Darrow’s story.
Broken free by his daring friends and believers in the rebellion, Darrow rises again from certain death. Older, wiser, and ever-cautious of the cost of this war, Darrow emerges from his prison not as the infallible warlord Reaper, nor as the idealistic sixteen-year-old who tried to kill himself following his wife’s execution. No, he rises this time as Darrow of Lykos, of the Helldivers and Red miners of Mars, the Morning Star who guides those in the darkest and harshest of winter nights.
With the support of his true friends and allies, with his family and the Reds of his home and all the low colors ravenous for freedom, Darrow makes his last, desperate stand to break the chains.
The third and final volume in the Red Rising trilogy by Pierce Brown, Morning Star was one of my most highly anticipated books of 2016. No exaggeration. The first two novels in this epic trilogy found homes on my top 10 lists of 2014 (Red Rising) and 2015 (Golden Son) and, given the dramatic cliffhanger ending of Golden Son, I was obsessively counting the days until release of this final book.
I am happy to report that Morning Star is a solid, action-packed book and a (mostly) fitting end to a great bloodydamn series.
“Justice isn’t about fixing the past, it’s about fixing the future. We’re not fighting for the dead. We’re fighting for the living. And for those who aren’t yet born.”
Before I dive into some ponderings regarding ending a series (particularly an SFF series that deals with violent revolution), I want to first give credit to the many outstanding things that Morning Star accomplishes on its own.
The most impressive thing that Pierce Brown pulls off over the course of this series is the sheer epic scope of this particular world. Darrow begins his journey in the smallest of worlds, as a young, cocky Helldiver of Lykos–a subterranean mining colony of Mars, meant to terraform the red planet for some future human above-ground colonization. From there, he learns that the world is much, much larger than he ever dreamed; he sees that his planet has been terraformed many generations over, and he rises from the depths to become a star pupil, a warlord, and a peerless scarred scion for one of the most powerful families of the inner solar system. In Morning Star, readers finally see the far reaching implications of the Gold’s broken society–we visit the icy depths of the Obsidian’s home world and the Valkyries who have been lied to for as long as their species has lived. We see the tensions of the outer rim planets as they are cast aside by the powerful houses under the Authority. We visit the miraculous constructs on Ganymede, built by Reds over decades and centuries.
We see it all burn, too. Morning Star is the culmination of the war that has been building for the prior two books–and the hunger and rage that has been building in this society for centuries. As Darrow’s character grows and learns just how large the universe is, and the breadth of the injustices that the system imposes on its inhabitants, so too do readers understand the sheer epic scope of this tale. In Red Rising, my impression of the worldbuilding in the series was underwhelmed–the obvious Roman allusions and simplistic color-coding of society was entertaining, but felt small. In Golden Son, Brown gave us glimpses of the larger implications of this society (the lives of Pinks, for example, and their upbringing) that are much more considered and lasting. In this third book, however, we see the whole picture for the first time. It’s… well, epic.
Also epic is Darrow’s character arc, as he grows from an exceptionally Gary Stu with a hero complex (Red Rising), to a fallible but ever-powerful general (Golden Son), to a broken and reborn man who understands the value of trust, friendship, and the harsh realities of War. In this third book, Darrow proves that he understands the magnitude of revolution–in his own words, he becomes a builder.
I can be a builder, not just a destroyer.
It’s an impressive journey, to say the least. Other characters aren’t as nuanced as Darrow (then again, as we’re stuck in Darrow’s first person point of view, that’s a little unfair)–but one thing I also want to make sure I applaud is the awesome growth and role of female characters in this trilogy and universe. In book 1, I had serious concerns regarding the framing of women in this realm–the fact that Eo has to die in order for Darrow to rise, the raping of female characters at the Academy war game, the role of Mustang and her reliance/position next to Reaper. But in Golden Son and even more so in Morning Star, this all changes. We truly see the matriarchal warrior society of the Obsidians and meet Ragnar’s family; we see Victra rise and face her own demons; we see Mustang as a character with her own agenda outside of Darrow’s, determined to make things right for the future of everything.
While there are many, many wonderful, solid things to love about this book, as a series finale Morning Star gives me some pause. Don’t get me wrong–it does everything it needs to do. It closes Darrow’s story, it shows us the big bloodydamn war in great detail, it feels suitably epic and grand in scale.
Yet still, I pause.
I’d like to think of this book in comparison to two other dystopian science fiction trilogies that feature revolution and change: The Hunger Games and Star Wars. To me, Morning Star falls much more on the side of Mockingjay than it does Return of the Jedi–and I mean that in an emotional resonance and action type of way. (I should put the disclaimer here that this part of the review is more discussion-based, and firmly rooted in my own personal taste and bias. Take that as you will!)
Consider: Mockingjay is the story of a violent revolution that is successful, but at great personal cost to its protagonist, Katniss. The last book (and Mockingjay 2 the film) features a lot of action, a shell-shocked heroine, and a lot of Big Messaging regarding the Horrors and Cost of War. It also focuses, at the end, on rebuilding when the fog of war has cleared, and the fallibility of leaders. In this story, Katniss is much more of a pawn than Darrow (although her actions, even her final ones towards President Coin, are predicted by others in a way that Darrow’s are not).
Also consider: Return of the Jedi is the story of a violent interplanetary revolution that is successful, but at great personal cost to its protagonist, Luke. The last film features a lot of action, a tenacious Jedi knight who has finished his training alone, and who is desperate to face the evil face of the Empire, in the hopes of saving his father and ending the reign of the Dark Side of the Force. The rebuilding period isn’t addressed here (and is the fodder of much Expanded Universe content, not to mention the lead-in for Episode VII), but there is emotional uncertainty in this film.
To me, Morning Star falls short of Golden Son and aligns more closely with the good-but-not-great Mockingjay than it does with the amazingly-great-and-don’t-tell-me-otherwise Return of the Jedi because of two things: 1. battle fatigue, and 2. emotional resonance. (Again, this is COMPLETELY subjective. Your mileage may vary.)
You see, in Return of the Jedi, there’s minimal battle fatigue, and huge emotional uncertainty–there’s a ton of action, yes, but we need to know if Luke will be successful in turning his father from the Dark Side, or if he will succumb to rage and fear just as Darth Vader did. I would argue that it is because of this tension and uncertainty that the emotional core of Return of the Jedi is so powerful, so resonant.
I would also argue that this is where Morning Star, like Mockingjay falls short of the mark of greatness. Like Mockingjay, Morning Star does everything it needs to do. There are many battles, and armies that are built. There is a jail break, and there are raids, and there are bombs. There are deaths, but there is also victory. And, while it’s all done very, very well, there’s a degree of inevitability to the story. There are no real surprises here. I felt moved to near-tears just once over the course of this book–one particular character’s fate caught me off-balance and hit a true, unexpected emotional note for me. I so desperately wanted more of that, though. I wanted to feel the horror and uncertainty that I felt when Luke was battling Darth Vader and the Emperor’s insidious words creep into his ears; I wanted to feel the pathos and heartbreak of Anakin’s return to the Light Side as he chooses to die in order to save his son from the Emperor.
Morning Star tries very hard to deliver grandeur and emotional gravitas, but falls just short (despite the many speeches, and the many Reds and low colors howling behind Darrow as he charges into battle). Darrow at this point has already played all of the big emotional cards in book 2, and as a result this novel is one of pure action, loaded with predictable emotional misunderstanding and reconciliation without any of the true uncertainty that would make it great. It didn’t have the fear, the edge, or the emotional payoff of Jedi–it had more of the formulaic action and examination of the Costs of War as Mockingjay.
Pierce Brown is an incredibly skilled writer just as Darrow is a hell of a hero (and Mustang a hell of a heroine). And Morning Star is a hell of a book–but it’s one that relies on skilled plotting and inevitable outcomes. I never once doubted that Darrow would find his way, or that he would reconcile with his friends after misunderstandings, or that he would lose his war–these are all machinations I knew Darrow would face and overcome, systematically. I just wanted a little bit more.
These ponderings and wishes aside, I still truly enjoyed Morning Star, feel satisfied with its ending, and wholeheartedly recommend the book and the trilogy to anyone looking for a great, action-packed science fiction series. And I cannot wait to read what Pierce Brown writes next.
I rise into darkness, away from the garden they watered with the blood of my friends. The Golden man who killed my wife lies dead beside me on the cold metal deck, life snuffed out by his own son’s hand.
Autumn wind whips my hair. The ship rumbles beneath. In the distance, friction flames shred the night with brilliant orange. The Telemanuses descending from orbit to rescue me. Better that they do not. Better to let the darkness have me and allow the vultures to squabble over my paralyzed body.
My enemy’s voices echo behind me. Towering demons with the faces of angels. The smallest of them bends. Stroking my head as he looks down at his dead father.
“This is always how the story would end,” he says to me. “Not with your screams. Not with your rage. But with your silence.”
Roque, my betrayer, sits in the corner. He was my friend. Heart too kind for his Color. Now he turns his head and I see his tears. But they are not for me. They are for him. For what he has lost. For the ones I have taken from him.
“No Ares to save you. No Mustang to love you. You are alone, Darrow.” The Jackal’s eyes are distant and quiet. “Like me.” He lifts up a black eyeless mask with a muzzle on it and straps it to my face. Darkening my sight. “This is how it ends.”
To break me, he has slain those I love.
But there is hope in those still living. In Sevro. In Ragnar and Dancer. I think of all my people bound in darkness. Of all the Colors on all the worlds, shackled and chained so that Gold might rule, and I feel the rage burn across the dark hollow he has carved in my soul. I am not alone. I am not his victim.
So let him do his worst. I am the Reaper.
I know how to suffer.
I know the darkness.
This is not how it ends.
Read the first three chapters of Morning Star online HERE.
Rating: 7 – Very Good; and an 8 overall for the series.