Review: Morning Star

You may already know that I’ve been in love with Pierce Brown’s Red Rising trilogy from the very first page. I’ve been trying to savor each of the three books, but I’ve finally come to the end of the last one, and what a bittersweet journey it has been. This is a spoiler-free review of the third book, but if you haven’t read the previous two books, you should probably do that first. If you need a refresher on the series, you can read my complete reviews for Red Rising and Golden Son with these links. And now, on with Morning Star.

“If you’re watching, Eo, it’s time to close your eyes. The Reaper has come. And he’s brought Hell with him.”

morningstarAbout the book: Darrow has been severely betrayed. He loses everything at the hands of the Jackal, including, to an extent, himself. The Reaper has been reduced to a shell of his former glory, and his will to go on has all but evaporated. The Sons of Ares, however, are bigger than one man, and the Rising rages on. Although with newfound trust and confidence issues, Darrow is an important member of the Sons and he learns in Morning Star what lengths his allies will go to in order to aid him–and also that allies are not necessarily friends. Darrow must play more carefully, but the Sol System is in all-out war and he has no choice but to take his place in it. He must call on other Colors for aid, as well as beat the Golds from within. He must overthrow the Sovereign, but the Jackal is an obstacle that won’t be ignored, and conflict in the Rim will also prove problematic. With all of these threads of war battling one another, Darrow knows he needs to eliminate some enemies, align with others to increase his numbers, and still the odds will be against him as the battles grow and casualties mount. He needs friends, but he’s afraid including them in his efforts will only endanger them further. Still, no one knows danger like Darrow. From the moment he joined the Sons, he knew he would die for the cause. When that’s no longer the end he wants, it seems the only way to prevent becoming a martyr is to win–everything, and at all costs.

“How many mothers have prayed to see their sons, their daughters return from war only to realize the war has kept them, the world has poisoned them, and they’ll never be the same?”

Best aspect: the characters. I love a book with strong characters, and this is that. Sevro has always been interesting, but he takes center stage in Morning Star. He acts when Darrow can’t. He’s funny and severe and, underneath it all, achingly human. Mustang is the epitome of the independent, leading female. Victra is a wild card, but she’s the card this book needs. The Jackal, Roque, the Sovereign… perfect villains who fight not in the name of evil, but in misplaced honor and defense of what they believe to be the best achievements of humanity. And Darrow, he’s the bloodydamn Reaper of Mars. He’s the hero who makes mistakes, the one who suffers the consequences even if he manages to win, the man who must act as a symbol and shoulder the responsibility for an entire people. He evolves. He sees his own flaws, Eo’s flaws, his friends’ flaws, and somehow he loves and finds strength not despite them, but through them. He can lead, but he can also follow orders. These characters are a force to be reckoned with.

“There’s not a Red on Mars that doesn’t know your name, Reap. Not a single person in the digital world who doesn’t know that a Red rose to become a prince of the Golds, to conquer Mars. I made you a myth. And now that you’re back from the dead, you’re not just a martyr. You’re the bloodydamn messiah the Reds have been waiting for their entire lives.”

Plot twists are also a supreme strength of Brown’s in this series. When you think Darrow has a trick up his sleeve, everything comes crashing down instead. When you think he’s certainly met his end, he’s got the best trick up his sleeve of all. But he’s not the only one who can think and surprise readers–every character has his or her moment. In fact, I think the superb plot twists of Morning Star can also be attributed to great characterization. The betrayals, the surprise alliances, the failures and successes the reader can never see coming, can all be attributed to characters that have too much depth to ever be black and white. Everyone has a reason for everything, and so there is always a reason to love a character, or to forgive him/her–or even to hate him/her when the tables turn–but once you’re lulled into thinking one thing, Brown reminds readers that nothing is certain, that people change and lie  and cheat, but then as soon as a new order is in place, he shuffles the cards again and someone else is on top. There’s no way to predict what’s next, and even skimming ahead is practically impossible because every 20 pages or so there’s a completely new life-or-death situation with new characters and someone important has probably died and other miscellaneous catastrophic destruction has occurred. The only way forward, the only way to understand it all, is to keep soldiering on, one sentence at a time.

“Which would you fear more […] a god? Or a mortal with the power of a god? […] A god cannot die. So a god has no fear. But mortal men… how frightened they are that the darkness will come. How horribly they will fight to stay in the light.”

And, of course, that brings us to my other favorite aspect, the writing. Brown uses sentence fragments, which is normally something that bothers me, but it works here. Every paragraph is perfection. Every chapter title has you thinking “Oh, goryhell, this one’s going to be epic,” and then it is. Down to the level of individual word choice, this book is fantastic. Brown weaves in little-used words to great effect. He included the phrase “Bye, Felicia,” with comedic but intense results, both in the popular and literal uses of the phrase. There’s a new take on a T. S. Eliot quote in there. There’s Latin. It’s heavy, it’s light, it’s funny, it’s depressing–one mood flows right into another seamlessly, and no word is presented timidly. I loved every sentence. There are great implications about equality. There are one-liners. The dialogue, the exposition… no complaints.

“And I wonder, in my last moments, if the planet does not mind that we wound her surface or pillage her bounty, because we silly warm things are not even a breath in her cosmic life. We have grown and spread, and will rage and die. And when all that remains of us is our steel monuments and plastic idols, her winds will whisper, her sands will shift, and she will spin on and on, forgetting about the bold, hairless apes who thought they deserved immortality.”

My reaction: 5 out of 5 stars. The first two books of this series, I could hardly put down. But this one… Morning Star was a weighty one. I could hardly read more than twenty pages at a time without needing an emotional break from the chaos within, and with over 500 pages that meant a lot of breaks. There’s so much constant action that it’s difficult at times to take it all in. Although I don’t mind a book I need to take breaks from, if I had to find a flaw in this one, the constant push of high tension would be on that list. I was okay with the going being slow, though, because i wanted this trilogy to never end. Now I will be (not so) patiently awaiting the release of the first book in the spin-off series, which looks like it should be published sometime in 2017. In the meantime…

Further recommendations:

  1. Orson Scott Card’s science fiction novel, Ender’s Game, is a great choice for fans of Pierce Brown’s trilogy. Featuring a young protagonist enmeshed in a series of space battles that are presented to him as games but which carry life-or-death consequences, Ender’s Game also steals readers’ attention with strong characters, incredible plot twists, and space politics gone awry. Ender is a paradigm-altering fighter, like Darrow. You can find my complete review of this book here.
  2. Fans of Brown should also check out Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, a novel about an immersive online video game with real-life danger for main character Parzival. The game revolves around 80’s pop culture trivia, including movies, games, and music, but the virtual reality online world in which the game takes place is a universe in itself, with its own politics, planets, and high-stakes players. Find my complete review here.

What’s next: I’m currently reading Marissa Meyer’s Cress, the third book in the YA science fiction Lunar Chronicles. I’ve heard this is the best book of the series, and so far I’d have to say I agree. Stay tuned to find out why.

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

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