Monday, February 22, 2016

Review: "Morning Star," by Pierce Brown

I don’t know that there’s been a book in years that I anticipated more than Pierce Brown’s “Morning Star” ($27, Del Rey).

I thought the first book in the trilogy, “Red Rising” was outstanding, but the second book “Golden Son,” completely blew me away. I read “Golden Son” in January of last year and knew at that point that it would be my favorite book of the year. It was, pretty easily.

Now Brown returns to the story of Darrow of Lykos at a low point. The former Red miner who rose to the top of the Gold ranks in an effort to overthrow an oppressive caste system is imprisoned in darkness. His execution was broadcast across the Society and most people believe him dead. But the execution was faked, and his greatest enemy, Adrius au Augustus, also known as the Jackal, holds him chained and tortured. The once-powerful Reaper of Mars’ body is now ravaged and weak.

Darrow believes he’ll never see the light again, but then the Sovereign, Octavia au Lune, sends two of her Olympic Knights to retrieve him from the Jackal. That provides an opening for the Sons of Ares to stage a daring rescue attempt that puts the Reaper back at the forefront of the revolution. But the game has changed dramatically while he’s been imprisoned, and it will take more than his fearsome reputation to put the pieces back together.

While “Golden Son” gave us plenty of action and excitement, “Morning Star” focuses, at least in the early going, on a struggle of another kind. Darrow’s imprisonment and the betrayal of some of his friends has left him questioning whether he can lead and if he can do what victory in this war requires. After his rescue, he defers to his friend Sevro, even when he knows the savage Howler’s play isn’t the right one, which puts him in a position where he has to make a tough decision.

Brown paints in grays just about as well as anyone that I’ve ever read, and the Reaper ends up having to battle himself with just as much energy as the Golds who seem poised to crush the lowColor rebellion. Both Darrow and the reader are often left to question if the sacrifices he has to make are worth it, and if he succeeds, whether the society he leaves behind will really be better off.

Not to worry for fans of Brown’s blistering action. There is introspection on Darrow’s part, but it’s done on the move, and Brown manages to put you right in the midst of the chaos. The final third of “Morning Star,” in particular, is just as frenetic and action-packed as any point in “Golden Son.”

That finale, though. Oh, man.

It leaves me sitting here wanting desperately to say something about it, but realizing that there’s no way I can discuss it without spoiling something. Brown keeps us on our toes, and it both is and isn’t what you think. Just keep reading – not that it will be a problem at that point. I tried to put the book down a little after midnight with about 50 or 60 pages left and ended up getting back out of bed to finish it because I couldn’t sleep leaving the story where I had left it.

Brown started his Red Rising Trilogy on a good note, but over the course of the second and third books, it transformed into something great. These three volumes have earned a permanent place on my bookshelf next to those books and series that I consider my personal classics, which is something that rarely happens these days. I’m not sure that Brown will be able to top this trilogy, but I’m looking forward to seeing him try.

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