Morning Star by Pierce Brown. Science Fiction/Fantasy. Publisher: Del Rey February 2016
The Book Itself: I gotta say… was not really expecting the last title to be “Morning Star.” Sounds a little less intimidating than the first two installments: Red Rising, Golden Son…but I like it. I like the SlingBlade as the last symbol. All of the books have had those simple, graphic covers you know I love.
My Review: 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.
How do you start to suss out your feelings for the end of a series you’ve loved? Thank god I wasn’t reviewing books when I read the Harry Potter series. I don’t think I could take it. On the one hand, you love the books. You spent 2, 3, maybe even 7 books with the same characters, and you stuck around for a reason.
And then what if they kill off one of your favorite characters? What if they totally ruin a relationship you’ve loved? What if things just DON’T GO YOUR WAY?
I mean first of all, get over it because the author will do what they do and they can’t please everyone, and also they don’t work for you etc. Then continue to freak out because that is what you do about things you are passionate about.
And I’m passionate about this series. I have never read anything like it. The characters, the politics, the world that has been built over these many hundreds of pages…it’s original (some people contend this point, saying certain technologies and features are similar if not the same as in other sci-fi epics, to which I say that nothing is truly new and original anymore. What is original is how you use such things, and who uses them. And for that Rising is original to me. Rant over). And at least for me, the series has been incredibly emotional. It elicits excitement, anger, heartbreak, sadness, fatigue (that last one’s mostly because I stay up reading just one more chapter…) and I love it, all the way through the end.
And including the end, because holy crap was that intense. So I’ll start there. Thank goodness I had the evening free when the last 70 pages or so started rolling. Because boy howdy is that a ride you do not want to interrupt. It is all of your favorite characters coming together in one final move that is so suspenseful, so well-plotted, that I had to catch my breath at the end. It’s one of those moments where you know Darrow knows what he’s doing, you know there’s a catch to this situation that seems unwinnable, and yet you are still shocked at how everything turns out.
It ends tremendously, and for the most part, satisfyingly (more on that in a bit). But how does it get there?
Morning Star, more than any other installment in the Red Rising series, has its slower moments. Not to say that slowing down is bad. The first two books start off sprinting and never ever stop, so in a way it’s nice to have a chapter where the characters are just having a meeting. No enemy comes charging in to chop off heads or make a big speech and throw another wrench in the works for our heroes (oh wait…there is actually a chapter like that…but rest assured, there are regular meetings in there, too). This book, more than the others, gets more political. Which is good, because it colors in the world and fleshes out the society Darrow and Sevro and Mustang live in (also, how awesome would a Red Rising coloring book be?!).
Even if politics, even fictional ones, are not my favorite (I tend to get the glazed-over eyes when monologues about strategy start pouring through) these scenes were few and far between. And you have Sevro and Kavax for comic relief. I don’t know why Kavax has a pet fox who loves jellybeans, but it makes any scene more lighthearted and enjoyable.
Morning Star also ratchets up the drama(tic). Not only are the stakes higher, the characters under more pressure than ever, the scenes where there is action breakneck and hyperventilating-worthy, but Darrow likes his dramatic narration. There are a lot of lonely musings with our favorite brooding protagonist, and I could see the POV being an acquired taste. Darrow is a character thrust into extraordinary circumstances, in a rapidly changing fictional world, and he wants to talk about it. Dramatically. I found myself sucked into the story and style of writing/narration, but to each their own.
And remember Ragnar? The Stained that Darrow befriending and enlisted to the cause, the big guy with the tattoos who only speaks in bold-faced text? He’s here, and he’s awesome. A string of the plot sends the gang to Ragnar’s hometown. Which is, as you can imagine, intense. There are fierce battles on the ice, and a moment so poignant and upsetting that I had to put down the book for a bit to fume and cry. It’s a welcome break from a plot filled with space battles, yet remains crucial to the plot.
Onto my favorite characters. Yes, I play favorites. I went to a signing Pierce Brown did at a local bookstore (Friday post on that soon!) for the release of Morning Star. And when it was my turn to get the book signed, I told him that if he killed Sevro or Mustang, I would be very, very upset with him. I’m not about to tell you whether they do make it or not, but those two (Sevro mostly, Mustang was a little mysterious and aloof during the whole story) were near and dear to me. Other character’s demises were sad, yes. But so help me if Sevro or Mustang got killed…
And Sevro’s still a fiery, witty badass. He’s the story’s comic relief, the respite and counterpoint to Darrow’s sullen broodiness. He gets a romance in this book, which we don’t get to see a whole lot of detail of (because the story is from Darrow’s perspective). So it kind of seems out of left field, although if Sevro would be with anyone in the world of this story, it would certainly be with this person (no spoilers, sorry!)
Mustang…I am torn about Mustang. On the one hand, she’s intriguing. She’s often touted as the smartest person in the room, and she’s this big force in Darrow’s life, the main love interest. And while she reams Darrow again and again for not letting her in, for keeping things from her…I don’t feel as if I know an awful lot about her. I am trying to remember if we get a scene, a moment in any of the books where she and Darrow chat at an extended length of time and she reveals a deep, meaningful story from her childhood, or any other facts that help us get a real solid sense of her character and how she is as an adult person. But really, she and Darrow spend most of this book apart. They have a handful of touching, meaningful moments. The rest of the time, Mustang admits to “testing” Darrow to see if he is worthy of her trust again. Which seems unfair, especially seeing as she wasn’t clear about her own past and parentage in the first book, at the Academy, and in the second book, when she was seeing Cassius behind his back. Sort of a people in glass houses shouldn’t throw rocks kind of thing…
And then, in literally the last couple pages, a plot twist kind of makes me hate Mustang. It is revealed that she kept something from Darrow so huge, so life- and plot-changing, that it makes it pretty difficult to forgive her (and Pierce Brown for throwing a wrench in the works during zero hour – curse you for playing with my emotions like that). Because it’s a capital “b” Big Deal. And she literally deemed him unworthy of dealing with it for a good long while.
And see, I would have been okay with that as a character flaw. Everyone is hypocritical. But for a major character to keep something that big, and for her to repeatedly not accept Darrow into her life because he’s aloof, I want to really know that major character. I want to have seen her in action, I want to hear a lot of her conversations, and I want to know why and when she makes decisions. I don’t feel as if I know that about Mustang. And so her testing Darrow kind of pisses me off.
It reminds me of the trope that someone titled the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Now, Mustang is not that: she’s stoic and fierce and a lot tougher than that trope implies. But Manic Pixie is often scowled upon because those characters pop into someone’s life, are amazing and beautiful and have wonderful personalities…but they aren’t very round characters. We get to know them only on the surface. I guess all of that translates into me wanting to know Mustang more as a character in order for me to reconcile some of the pretty crappy things that she did.
But despite me falling a little out of love with Mustang, Morning Star is a triumphant finale to a series that actually isn’t quite a finale. Pierce Brown announced that the saga will continue in a kind of companion trilogy, Iron Gold. As I understand it so far, this will pick up where Morning Star left off, but feature a new host of characters. I will be in line for that new book, absolutely, no-questions-asked. I loved the series, the world, the dramatic narration, all of it. Bloodydamn awesome.
My Grade: A