Tag Archives: pierce brown

Review: Dark Age

CW: murder, graphic violence (including torture), rape (off the page), use of nuclear weapons, planetary destruction

Disclaimer: Instead of a regular review (since this is the fifth book in a series) I’m going to use the opportunity of having recently finished reading Pierce Brown’s Dark Age to talk about the Red Rising series in general, and why I am reading it. So, no spoilers, and maybe this’ll be interesting even if you haven’t read any of the books in the series.

darkageBrown’s Red Rising series includes: Red Rising, Golden Son, Morning Star, Iron Gold, and Dark Age.

There are a lot of different factors that can motivate me to pick up a book (of course), but one thing I’m always looking for in what I read is something unlike anything I’ve ever encountered before. A dystopian/fantasy with a male hero and themes of fighting for racial/social equality hardly sounds unique, but the Red Rising series has always possessed a certain level of grit that (in my opinion) sets it apart from similar stories of its genre(s). Despite a fair amount of casual sexism and ableism, which I find increasingly annoying as my reading taste shifts more toward feminism and female authors in general, Brown is the only author I read who can write a passage like this:

“I moan something in fear. There’s a lurch. A sudden pressure in my chest. He pulls away, his hand holding something red as he mouths a word dead to my ears. 


Then he takes a bite of my heart.”

…and still leave me with room for doubt over whether this character is actually dead. Set thousands of years in the future, most of our main characters are Gold superhumans for whom surgery can fix almost anything that evolution has not already. There is a caste system, so the lower folk (lowColors) usually can’t afford to be fixed, and are worked to the bone by their superiors, but having a powerful friend can help even them. It really puts what is humanly possible and what is not humanly possible into a whole different realm.

Furthermore, I don’t believe I’ve ever read anything with such a wide scope. Red Rising begins on Mars, as overflow from Earth has long since required the populating of additional planets, but the plot is mainly confined to two limited locations (a Red mine, and the Institute). As the series progresses, the plot moves farther into space. By Dark Age, we’re following world leaders who govern billions of citizens and are conducting a war between “Rim” planets and “Core” planets (though in actuality there are more than two sides taking up arms in the fray); the action is taking place in so many different places- even on ships between the planets- that the plot is just huge. Dark Age clocks in at over 750 pages, and probably at least 25% of its language (I’m obviously guessing, but it’s A Lot) is lingo specific to this series. The perspectives we’re following grant us access to whole armies, governmental bodies, and rulers with the power to end or save millions of lives with a single command; but they also give us individual humans with distinct motivations and emotions to remind the reader that no matter how big a character might seem with all their power, everyone is small in the face of the universe. The focus is craftily balanced between the very broad and the very narrow.

“Some men can stare at their feet and pretend the world isn’t falling apart. I cannot.”

And of course, the plot is utterly unpredictable. This is always a boon for me, as I find myself more frequently disappointed by authors I’ve loved in the past as their style becomes familiar to me. This has not been the case with Brown. The betrayals are brutal, the deaths are either horrific and described in minute, gory detail, or so abrupt and easy as to be almost comical. It’s meant to entertain at an epic level, but also to resonate with our own sense of humanity and the modern world.

Speaking of the modern world, Brown engages more and more with current politics as this series progresses. Gone is the simple cry for equality, and in its place, we see a much more nuanced presentation of many world issues feeding into each other. One of the topics Brown tackles in Dark Age is climate change and planetary destruction. Of course, in his universe, artists/architects have molded the environments of uninhabitable planets not only to make them livable but to mimic Earth’s rotational speed and thus fit humanity’s preferred cycle of time. Which is a statement in itself. Following that, we see a major battle on one small planet in which a “natural” storm is produced by one army to gain advantage over the other. The person at the controls experiences a moment of crisis and considers that increasing the storm to wipe everyone from both sides off of the planet might be the best way to turn the tide of the war, and for humanity at large. In addition, nuclear bombs are dropped on the planet in the spirit of “if we can’t have it, no one can.” All of this seems designed to make the reader think about our attitude toward our own planet these days. Earth is not one of the main settings for Dark Age or the larger series, but I think the point is clear enough. And this is just one aspect of the larger story.

“The waves crash all around the roots of the building. Both were made by man. Perhaps at first in hope, to give our species a new home to live and to love. But in time, I don’t know when, their creation became a vanity of will, and in the shadow of that vanity, man grew lesser for having more. Lesser for mastering the keys of creation, because he mistook himself for god, and cared less for his people, and more that his works endured.”

“The worlds cannot afford a man who wrecks a planet simply to win a battle.”

Ultimately, Red Rising is a high-tech political space drama series with a Latin / ancient Rome obsession, reflecting on the future fate of humanity. It practically requires its own dictionary- none is provided. (There is a cast list, but it shows only the house each person belongs to, no refreshers on their politics or past deeds.) Everything about this series is dense and demanding. Red Rising, the first (and shortest) novel, is certainly simpler, but even in Golden Son (the second novel) we begin to see where Brown is heading, and he really runs with it. I appreciate the challenge.

This isn’t going to be a favorite series for everyone. It’s niche, and it’s hard work. I can’t even tell you whether loving Star Wars or other space sagas is a good indicator here, because I really don’t read/watch any other space stories at the moment (other than Saga, the only story I know of that seems remotely similar, though much more readable). And honestly, I’m not sure this overview is doing much in the way of persuasion, but it’s just not a series I would recommend to everyone. I could do the usual spiel of assuring you it gets better after the first book, but forcing yourself to continue if you’re not enjoying these books is unlikely to work in your favor. And you need a strong stomach to survive Red Rising. There are impalements, flayings, live dismemberments and such in this most recent volume alone, and Brown doesn’t spare any details.

Some specific (non-spoiler) impressions of Dark Age, for anyone who has read the book: I found it very slow to start, with a few great moments but mostly political catch-up; and yet Brown ramps up the action in the end. As in Iron Age, we’re seeing multiple perspectives to glimpse different facets of the war; if I had to pick one, I think Lysander’s chapters interested me the most consistently in this volume. I was surprised by the return of a character I thought was dead (I shouldn’t have assumed this person was dead). I couldn’t bring myself to worry about Darrow with one more book on the horizon. Virginia’s new adversary seemed ridiculous at first, but I’m intrigued to see where Brown goes with it. I’m very interested in the Ascomanni, though I thought Brown’s writing of this “fairy tale” element seemed the weakest part of the novel- it felt rather shoehorned in. I’m also loving the mystery of “Figment.” I was disappointed with the lack of Sevro scenes, though.

“All that will be measured, all that will last, is your mastery of yourself.”

My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. This was probably my least favorite book of the series so far, but I think the fact that I failed to reread any of the others to refresh my memory before diving into Dark Age made the read more challenging and emotionally distant for me than any of the others have been. I’m really hoping to reread a couple of the earlier titles before Book 6 comes out, but I said that last time. And I’d love to do a full series read at some point when everything is published, but it would feel like such a huge undertaking that I don’t know when it might happen. But, as I’ve made it this far, I’m still on board to read the final book of the series! I’m just really hoping it’s the final book this time. If this series goes on any longer, it’s going to feel like drama for the sake of drama, and I’m going to lose respect.

Have you read any of the Red Rising series? What did you like or dislike about it?


The Literary Elephant

Review: Red Rising Sons of Ares

It’s a long wait between Iron Gold and the release of Pierce Brown’s new novel, Dark Age, in September. But this graphic novel prequel to the series (entitled Pierce Brown’s Red Rising Sons of Ares) just released this month, and I thought it would be a great way to see a little something new from the Red Rising series before going back through a reread of the earlier novels in preparation for Dark Age.

sonsofaresAbout the book: Fitchner au Barca was born a weak link in the Gold chain, and the Golds have been trying to snuff him out since his infancy. But Fitchner survives, and always living at the bottom of the Gold pack teaches him to run, to fight, and to win. He learns to love the other dregs of society, and to see the injustice of a system that gives more power to the strong and takes advantage of the lesser echelons. He breaks the law to take a wife of another Color, and understands better all the time the corruption of a system that will not admit that she has value. Fitchner learns from his treatment at Gold hands how the lowColors live, and every moment brings him closer to a desire to break with the Golds and force a change in their corrupt system.

This is a graphic novel containing the six issues of Sons of Ares. The story goes back and forth between Fitchner au Barca’s backstory and the present heist he’s leading at the book’s opening.

I’m glad I waited to read all six volumes in the one book. I felt a little left out last year when the issues started releasing individually and I wasn’t reading them, but I think I would’ve gotten confused and needed plenty of rereads to stay on top of the story line if I hadn’t read them all together like this.

The action moves pretty quickly from one event to the next, leaving the reader to infer a bit about how the characters are getting from one place to the next and how the plot points lead into each other. It’s a little harder to juggle in the beginning before the characters are known, but once the reader gets the hang of the back-and-forth between Fitchner’s past and present and learns the members of his heist team, everything becomes clearer.

I haven’t read a lot of comics/graphic novels/visual stories, and I have no expertise at all with critiquing drawings. But I can say I enjoyed my evening with this book. The characters were identifiable enough that I could tell who was who, though they seemed generally kind of smudgy and unclear, which I also liked because I like relying on my own visuals in my head until I’m through all the novels.

Unfortunately, I didn’t feel like I was getting much new information from this book. A lot of Fitchner’s backstory is explained in the series proper, so this book felt like a filling-out of the frame the series already laid in place. Brown notes in his introduction:

“In telling Darrow’s story it became more and more apparent that I would be doing a disservice to the overall tale if I didn’t trace it back to its roots.”

But enough of the roots are already there, in my opinion. Sons of Ares did not seem like a necessary chapter to the overall tale, after the information we’ve already been given. A lot of the big ideas about the wrongness of the Society and the dangers of their power hierarchy are repeat lessons from the novels, as well. And there’s one of my biggest pet peeves: a repeat of content from early in the book presented all over again later. (That was the one thing I would’ve changed about this book; a single panel– or maybe two– would have been enough to get the point across that the story had come full circle.)

perasperaadastraStill, it’s fantastic seeing some of the details of the series in a visual form and die-hard fans will find a lot to enjoy in this volume. If you’re still on the fence about this series, you probably don’t need to pick this one up, but if you’re like me,  desperate for another dose of the Red Rising world in the wait between novels… this may be just the pick-me-up you need.

My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. I had a great time with this book, even though didn’t excite me as much as the actual novels tend to do. I loved having another mode in which to enjoy this series– the visuals brought new life to some of the awesome details of this world, without being too prominent to override my own mental visuals. I’ll definitely read this again sometime, and it definitely made me more excited to start my reread of the Red Rising books soon! I just cannot get enough of this world.

What do you think about the Red Rising series? Are you interested in picking up the graphic novel prequel?


The Literary Elephant

Review: Iron Gold

*Excuse me while I rave about my current favorite series*

Iron Gold is the recently-released 4th book in (what has become) the Red Rising Saga. You do need to read these books in order for the plots to make sense, so if you don’t know who lived or died by the end of Morning Star, you probably want to catch up in the series before reading this review. No Iron Gold spoilers below, though. You can check out my review of book 1, Red Rising, if you’re just getting started with Pierce Brown’s books.

To be up front about it, this is mainly a book for the readers who’ve been addicted to Darrow’s story since Red Rising and already know they’re in this for the long haul. If you’re undecided but still hanging on, Iron Gold probably won’t make or break the series for you.

irongoldAbout the book: Ten Years after the Rising, Darrow and Virginia’s Republic is fraying. It has focused so heavily on liberation of the lowly throughout the solar system that it hasn’t been particularly attentive to the people once they’re freed, nor is it pleasing the new Senate at home on Luna. War is still raging (or simmering, in some cases) throughout the Solar System, affecting all Colors and all planets, in one way or another. There are those who would love to take advantage of the Republic’s current weakness– and a few who are ready to try. There may even be a few inside the system who are intentionally (or not) sabotaging the Republic and its resources. Our fabled heroes won’t go down without a fight, however.

This is the first book in this series with multiple narrators. There are 4 first-person perspectives in this book, but it’s hard to name a favorite because they all have something vital to add to the narrative. They span the solar system with their schemes and tragedies and divulge unique views on the political situation. It’s a good balance of introspective commentary on the aftermath of war, the struggle to build up what’s been broken, and new fights for peace. Here’s a look at the main characters:

LYRIA- This “freed” Martian Red gives readers a good look at the bottom of the ladder. Even with the old social castes upturned, Reds are still under-supplied, under-aided, under-appreciated. Lyria is only one of millions who was promised a new and better life after the Rising, but instead her family is forgotten in an overflowing refugee camp, still struggling to survive and robbed of the feeling of any nobility in the work they must now perform outside of the mines.

“I pray before I look at each new face, and feel sick as I breathe sighs of relief when it is someone else’s mother, someone else’s sister dead on the ground.”

LYSANDER- The boy king Cassius rescued from Luna has grown into a man on the run, but he’s still letting others make the important decisions– at least until their luck turns when he and Cassius get into their worst scrape yet. Lysander is quiet and wise, and never shows fear. He’s easy to sympathize with, which makes him both more deadly and more interesting as he’s pitted against other beloved characters by his past and present circumstances.

“The key to learning, to power, to having the final say in everything, is observation. By all means, be a storm inside, but save your movement and wind till you know your purpose.”

Ephraim: Here’s the criminal genius with a crippling past that you didn’t know this space drama needed until he showed up. He’s selfish and underhanded, but it’s clear his heart is in the right place though he’s been dealt a bad hand. Ephraim’s action scenes were probably my favorite in the book, between his heists and the introduction of a new cast of villains and allies. It’s difficult to say whether he’s trustworthy or not, or even which side he’s on other than his own.

“You are a world entire. You are grand and lovely. But you have to see it before anyone else does.”

These three characters are opening new doors for readers who’ve been with Darrow since the beginning, and they’re especially important at this point in the series because this war is much bigger than one person, even if that one person is Darrow, the mythologized Reaper responsible for the cataclysmic Rising. But don’t worry, even though our favorite Helldiver isn’t our only narrator anymore, he still has a voice.

DARROW- He’s 33 now, and he’s starting to feel old. The war, the Republic, the politics… the things he was once so passionate about have become a chore, a duty he’ll tend to with the best of his ability though his heart is home with his wife and son, who seem to be drifting apart from him as he pursues the war effort. Darrow’s chapters in this book show the range of Brown’s capabilities best, because though he’s still our beloved hero with plenty of tricks up his sleeve, he’s also making mistakes. Collecting regrets. The scope of Darrow’s character development throughout this series has been immense, but Iron Gold proves there are plenty of changes left for Darrow.

“I feel the trauma of what I’m doing not just to him, but both our families. It feels like the world is doing this to us. But is it the world, or is it me? The way I am built? A breaker, not a builder after all.”

Let me just note that we also see new sides of Sevro through Darrow’s perspective and it’s fresh and intriguing and makes me a little trepidatious about where he’ll stand in the next volume.

There’s plenty of action, never fear, but Iron Gold is heavy on the introspection, as well. It’s a set-up book, the bridge between the devastation and triumph from the first three books to what promises to be an epic conclusion. I wouldn’t say it ends on a cliffhanger so much as a gaping chasm for the next two books to fill, and with the fresh sparks ignited in Iron Gold, I just know it’s going to come to a crazy fantastic conclusion. And of course, it’s all written with Brown’s singular attention to detail. The descriptions are otherworldly and beautiful, the classical references are plenty, the characters are unabashedly bold.

The only let-down for me in Iron Gold was Mustang– or the lack of Mustang. In this book, she’s always Virginia or the Sovereign or Darrow’s wife. She makes only a few relatively small appearances. I missed seeing this half of the power couple at work in Iron Gold. It’s the relationships that keep me engaged with the characters, even though it’s really the epic plot twists and fast action scenes that keep me turning pages. With the way Morning Star ended, I expected to see more of Darrow’s family in Iron Gold, even if they’re not thrilled with him at the moment.

My reaction: 5 out of 5 stars. This isn’t my new favorite book of the series, but it’s not my least favorite either. I’m already majorly anticipating Book 5 (Dark Age), which is scheduled to hit shelves in September 2018. And while I’m waiting for September, I’ll be rereading all 4 of the already-published books in this series because I can’t. Get. Enough. Also because it’s been a year and a half since I read the first three books and I’ve already noticed I’m having a hard time tying some of the myriad names to their titles and backstories. There’s a lot of detail in this series, and I want to absorb every facet of it.

Any other enthusiastic Pierce Brown fans out there? What are your thoughts on Iron Gold?


The Literary Elephant

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.


The Literary Elephant

Update: you can also check out my full review of the next book in this series, Iron Gold

Review: Golden Son

Sequels never quite live up to expectations. Until now, that is. Golden Son, the phenomenal second book in Pierce Brown’s Red Rising trilogy (you can find my review of the first book here), is one of the only sequels I’ve enjoyed even more than the first book in its series.

About the book: Darrow, a lowly Red turned Gold, has learned valuable lessons and gained formidable enemies at both the Institute and Academy, elite schools for Golds. He’s having difficulty staying in contact with the Sons of Ares, and when left to his own devices he forms a web of tenuous allegiances with all sorts of characters, many of whom dislike each other. Darrow juggles friends, schemes, and trust as he continues to battle for a spot of power at the top of the pyramid, where he will be of use to Ares. His connection with house Augustus has its ups and downs–working his way into the ArchGovernor’s good graces would be an immense help to Ares, but it seems the Sovereign may have plans of her own for the family that may derail Darrow’s efforts. The Golds, the marvelous Golds, aren’t getting along. Discord may be what Darrow desires, but can he avoid being crushed between them in a civil war?


What sets it apart: Red Rising was incredible. In it, however, was one main challenge that persisted throughout the book: Darrow’s need to win the survival game at the Institute. There were other problems and plot twist that cropped up along the way, but those were nothing compared to the maze of intricate plot maneuvers through Golden Son. Darrow’s main problem has grown: lots of people want him dead now, and they’re coming from all directions. There is no safe place, no one he can trust, and yet he can’t win a fight on this scale without help. The contained conflict in the Institute was merely a taste of the horrible fight in the real world where he travels from ships and moons to whole planets that seem pitted against Darrow. The scale has been magnified a hundredfold.

Also, I love Darrow’s evolving view of Eo in this book. The fact that his first great love is dead prevents this story from developing into the usual sort of love story that evolves from a small group of people trying to save the world. But Brown makes a great literary move when he also refuses to let Eo become solely a symbol. Darrow admits that he was young when he fell in love with her. He notes other characters who disliked her. He sees that he doesn’t agree with her in every matter. Somehow, despite these revelations, he can’t let her go, and may even love her more as time passes despite her unrelenting absence. Eo is far from the most interesting character in these books, yet it is her presence and personality that make the entire story possible.

“How could so frail a girl have such a spirit, such a dream as freedom, when so many strong souls toiled and kept their heads down for fear of looking up?”

Worst aspect: I don’t like the instances when Darrow has a plan in the works and the reader isn’t allowed to know anything about it until he’s executing it. It feels like an easy way out for the narration to double back like that, to suddenly inform the reader that Darrow had done something to prepare for the seemingly hopeless circumstances that have befallen him, all without showing his hand to the reader. This technique allows the narration to stay true to the alternating uses of tension and surprise that come fast and heavy throughout the book, but tripping up the system every now and then might be worth allowing the reader at least a little foreshadowing and a chance to see at least the outline of the puzzle. One of Darrow’s friends claims that trying to figure him out is like trying to assemble a puzzle with missing pieces, and the book as a whole certainly feels that way at times.

Best aspect: This book is entirely unpredictable. There were a few plot twists I suspected, but somehow their execution still managed to shock me. Everything in this book is action and reaction and reaction, etc. so that even when one action is expected, it spirals out into something the reader could never have imagined. Maybe you guessed Eo’s secret or Ares’ identity in the first book–but even after the correct answer is revealed in Golden Son, just wait till you see what happens next, how it all fits together, what it means. Darrow is an astute judge of human character, always thinking and planning and counteracting others’ moves; something unsurprising may happen occasionally, but in response Darrow does nothing that fails to surprise. His very presence creates a whirlwind of events. There is no knowing what’s on the next page, and Darrow never disappoints.

“You are like one of the Old Conquerors. Charismatic and virtuous. When they look at you, they see none of the soft decadence of our meager time, none of the political poison that has saturated Luna…They will look at you and see a cleansing knife, a new day for a Second Golden Age.”

My reaction: 5 out of 5 stars. I absolutely loved this book. I immediately wanted to pick up Morning Star, the final volume in the trilogy, but by the time I’d reached the end of Golden Son I couldn’t do anything but put down the book and try vainly to catch my breath. The final chapter is deceptive–leading the reader to believe that the story is winding down, that no matter how difficult the road ahead may still be, Darrow has achieved a step forward on his path to radical change. I was lulled into this impression of safety, and then all hell broke loose again. THAT CLIFFHANGER, THOUGH. The end of this book made me infinitely glad I did not try to start reading this series before all three books had been released. I can manage to pause and finish a couple of library books, secure in the knowledge that Morning Star, the final book in the trilogy, is waiting patiently on my shelf. I would not have been able to endure months of waiting for the next installment to be published. Even though I like the other books I’m reading in the meantime, the few days’ wait before I delve into Morning Star will be torturous.

Further recommendations:

  1. Margaret Atwood’s The Heart Goes Last is another excellent dystopian novel with plot twists that will leave you reeling. This one features a town that prospers by keeping half of its supposedly innocent population behind bars for six months, then switching the citizens out for the rest of the year to imprison the remaining half. This creates jobs that the economy can no longer provide, but it also opens up new avenues of corruption that will prove dangerous for our main characters.
  2. Caroline Kepnes’ You has virtually nothing in common with the Red Rising trilogy except for a deadly young male protagonist and a sequel just as magnificent as its opening volume. Joe Goldberg is just as fitting a stalker as Darrow is a revolutionary–that is to say that sometimes his plans go awry but he’s excellent at thinking on his feet and overcoming the impossible. You can read my complete review of this book here.

What’s next: Shari Lapena’s The Couple Next Door is a thriller about a young couple whose six month old daughter goes missing while the parents are next door at a dinner party. The problem is that only the four at the dinner should’ve known the baby would be alone, but they’re all accounted for. I’ll be posting a full review shortly, in case you need any further convincing.


The Literary Elephant

Update: you can now find my complete review of the next (and final) book in this series, Morning Star, here!

Review: Red Rising

Part Hunger Games, part Percy Jackson, and part Lord of the Flies, Pierce Brown’s first book, Red Rising, packs one helluva punch. As the acknowledgement preceding the story asserts, “you’re going to bloodydamn love these books.” If you like dystopians, this one wins.

About the book: Darrow is a Red. Reds are the lowest Colors in Society, slaves to the highColors for all intents and purposes. All his life he’s known only the existence of a mine worker on Mars. If he’s not precisely happy, he’s content to be with his family and wife, Eo, and knows his place as the Helldiver for his mining group of Reds. But Eo does something that turns his world upside down and starts a quest for vengeance that changes the entire course of Darrow’s life. The Sons of Ares need his help to disrupt the unfair order of Society, and he needs their help to find justice and do as Eo wished for him–to live for more. If the only way to best the Golds is to become one and destroy the system from within, that’s what he’ll do. Only from the inside will he discover whether his birth as a Red truly makes him inferior, or whether his career as a Helldiver was the best preparation for life as a Gold that anyone could’ve asked for. Golds have to attend the Institute and compete for prestige, but Darrow is one of few who seem to understand that the deadly test is so much more than a game. Then again, he’s got so much more at stake than his new Gold friends and enemies.redrising

“I feel no pity for these students. They all murdered someone the night before, just like me. There are no innocents in this game.”

Best aspect: Darrow isn’t fighting for himself. Often in dystopian novels, the protagonist has been wronged in some personal way or has made a personal discovery that wakens dreams of revenge and a quest for their own safety and happiness. For Darrow, the choice is not made, it is thrust upon him. Eo is his motivation. She may be little more than a symbol to the reader, but she’s given Darrow a goal. He sees that revenge isn’t the answer, and the justice he seeks is not for himself–what he wanted is already gone. There are so many more layers and emotions to this story than I’ve fond in other dystopians because Darrow’s motivation is so complex. Not only is his hunt for justice more colorful because it’s someone else’s justice he’s seeking, but his reactions to the Golds are so much more intense. He has a deep hatred for the system of Society, but he sees all of the other characters as individual people–he has more sympathy for some of the Golds than some of the Reds and understands that even the Gold students competing with him at the Institute are forced through hardships or even deaths that they don’t deserve. Everything he’s been through has provided him with a uniquely objective perspective that makes him an expert at manipulating the rules and shifting the paradigm.

“Somehow she thinks we should pay, that the Proctors should come down and interfere. Most of the kids think that about this game…But the game isn’t like that, because life isn’t like that. Gods don’t come down in life to mete out justice. The powerful do it. That’s what they are teaching us, not only the pain in gaining power, but the desperation that comes from not having it, the desperation that comes when you are not a Gold.”

Although this is considered a YA book and Darrow is young and frequently admits that he’s still learning, Red Rising feels like a book for ages YA and above. A big part of the reason for this is the excellent world-building Brown demonstrates, making this a book for intelligent readers. Darrow mentions items and aspects of life that are completely alien to our present-day vocabulary on Earth. The reader needs to pay close attention and make inferences about what things are and how they function; you have to be able to fill in the blanks. I consider this a success in characterization–Darrow shouldn’t have to explain things he already knows, overthinking base knowledge of common details of his life on Mars, and the fact that he doesn’t gives the narration an impression of authenticity and reliability, as though we’ve been given direct access to his thoughts. If you’re not a reader who likes to piece a little of the puzzle together yourself, this may not be the book for you. Red Rising is not the type to pick over every detail and possibility until only the carcass is left, repeating itself in every possible variation and spelling out concepts better left to the imagination (ahem, Maze Runner, I’m looking at you). It’s a thinker, and it comes with its own language, leaving the reader to crack the code.

A note: A little background in Greek/Roman mythology comes in handy with this book. You don’t need to know much, but the life-or-death game at the Institute divides the students into Houses based on the characteristics of twelve well-known Roman gods, the Gold representatives of which watch the Houses clash from a floating Olympus. A little knowledge of the gods goes a long way in explaining some of the actions and mannerisms of the teachers and student participants. The addition of some mythological elements also allows for a comparison between Golds and gods that enhances the power struggle.

“Funny thing, watching gods realize they’ve been mortal all along.”

This book is also jammed full with big life ideas about power, human nature, what makes a life worthwhile, etc. but it doesn’t stop to examine each point in detail. It drops the hint and moves right along to the next plot-driven point. The book is definitely fast-paced and action-packed, but these little nuggets of wisdom and intrigue are what makes this book more than an addicting one-time-read. The worlds may be different, but the lessons apply. Darrow is a hero we can understand.

” ‘Steel is power. Money is power. But of all the things in the all the worlds, words are power. ‘ I look at him for a moment. Words are a weapon stronger than he knows. And songs are even greater. The words wake the mind. The melody wakes the heart. I come from a people of song and dance. I don’t need him to tell me the power of words.”

Darrow is smart. He is determined. He has relatively little regard for his own well-being. There is no doubt in my mind that he will take over the world and surprise them all.

My reaction: 5 out of 5 stars. I absolutely loved this book from the very beginning. Step aside, Hunger Games, there’s a new thrilling dystopian poised to set the world on fire. I’ve heard a lot of Red Rising reviews claiming that this book is too similar to The Hunger Games, but I beg to differ. There are some undeniable similarities, but I think they’re in areas that one book can’t claim a monopoly on–Brown’s world and characters are singularly different than Collins’, and knowledge of one doesn’t make the other any more predictable. I did love The Hunger Games when it was new, but not like this. This one was definitely a personal favorite, and I have already ordered the next two books in the trilogy. I can’t believe I didn’t hear of these books sooner–but I’m glad they were all published before I did. I don’t think I could survive an extended wait for the next book.

Further Recommendations:

  1. There are several YA dystopian series that have been popular in the past few years that you’d really have to try not to know about at this point–I’m talking The Hunger Games, Divergent, etc. I want to point you toward my (previous) personal favorite and often underappreciated set in this group, the Uglies quartet by Scott Westerfeld. If you like YA dystopians and haven’t read these books yet, check them out.
  2. If you want something a little more adult, check out George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series, first book: A Game of Thrones. This is another series that’s all over pop culture these days, but if you haven’t read them yet and enjoy Red Rising, you should. A lot of the world-building and characterization of Red Rising reminded me strongly of those techniques in A Game of Thrones.
  3. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley would be a fascinating read for Red Rising lovers who are also interested in classics–like the Colors, the Society of Brave New World has been divided into forced castes that determines one’s career and privileges. Like the Golds, the Alphas reign with supreme and unchallenged control in the name of progress and in hopes of creating a perfect society.

What’s next: Megan Miranda’s All the Missing Girls will be the focus of my next review. This novel calls itself a thriller/murder mystery told backward, an incredibly intriguing idea. Stay tuned to find out how effectively this technique works!


The Literary Elephant

Update: you can find my review of Brown’s Red Rising sequel, Golden Son, here.