Book of the Year 2016 (see all)
Morning Star by Pierce Brown is the third and final book of the Red Rising trilogy, a book that was hyped beyond belief given how good Golden Son was. And in my opinion Morning Star lived up to that hype, though it did not exceed the lofty standard set by Golden Son.
The story commences some time after the events of Golden Son, with Darrow facing unimaginable torture at the hands of his arch enemy. His friends manage to free him, but Darrow is a shell of the man he once was, lacking confidence, lacking presence, lacking just about everything. But from the ashes the Reaper is reborn, and once he is reborn there is no place in the solar system that is sheltered from his fury. The Reds are Rising, and they are taking the rest of the colours with them in an all out assault of the Gold hierarchy.
Morning Star takes a while to get going, and I apologise for being vague here but I don't want to spoil anything for you. While Red Rising and Golden Son jumped out of the blocks, Morning Star takes a far more measured approach, allowing Darrow and the reader to process all of the events that happened at the end of Golden Son. This type of reflection and character growth had to happen at some point in the books, it definitely would not have worked to have Darrow suddenly grow off-screen, but as a result the hype train lost of all its steam and it took some time to regain the momentum provided by Golden Son.
With Morning Star, Brown expands the scope of his story to the entire solar system, involving Gold warlords from beyond the asteroid belt who Darrow attempts to get on his side, hoping that their hatred of the core planets outweighs their hatred of the Reds and their uprising. With fleets of ships traversing the solar system, it was necessary for Brown to have some sizeable time jumps between chapters, and while I appreciate the necessity of these time jumps, it did disrupt the flow of the story and make it feel slightly disjointed.
I've talked about the issues I had with this story, but let me say that these issues were far outweighed by how awesome the characters, action, setting and overall story were. Darrow, Mustang, Sevro and the team are among some of the finest characters I have read about. The villains in this story are truly impressive, and the showdown between Darrow and his friend The Poet was truly gut wrenching. The entire battle sequence around Jupiter's moons is the greatest action sequence I have ever read (better than Kaladin vs Szeth in Words of Radiance), and I still replay it in my head over and over again. The sheer imagination of Brown sets him apart from most other authors who write these sweeping space operas.
Pierce Brown finishes his first trilogy with an almighty bang, and has now let us know that there will be more books to come in this universe with a handful of favourite characters returning (those who survived at least). I can think of only a handful of other debut trilogies that have come close to what Brown has achieved, and it's scary to think that Brown will only get better from here.
Ryan Lawler, 9.7/10
Though Pierce Brown hadn't quite ironed out all of his writing issues in Golden Son, it was at least enough of a step forward from Red Rising for me to hope that matters would continue to improve in Morning star; that Pierce Brown would inject some subtlety into his writing and we'd be seeing a more sensitive and consequently more effective conclusion to the trilogy.
Part of the reason I began in high hopes was where the book started, with Darrow having been betrayed and captured by his enemies with several close friends dying in the process. I thus hoped that Darrow, the unstoppable machine of awesome would actually be brought down to a more human level, would feel something a little subtler and more broken and perhaps through actually experiencing and overcoming suffering be someone I could actually respect and root for.
Despite a first chapter dealing with Darrow wrestling with his doubts in darkness, the first thing Morning Star did as a book was disappoint me. The book opens with Darrow supposedly having been the prisoner of The Jackal, enduring three months torture and nine months sensory deprivation, and yet after only two chapters Darrow is not only participating in his own escape but actively taking time to rescue his friend, breaking her out of her cell and carrying her across his shoulder like the big manly hero he is, belying all admissions of his own physical weakness. Indeed I found it odd that even though Darrow was quite ready to tell us how weak his muscles and reflexes were and how he wasn't the badass fighter he usually was (just before taking out the bad guys), the fact that someone having endured nine months sensory deprivation would be nearly catatonic, not to mention the paralyzing effects of three months of physical and psychological torture never occurs to Brown, or indeed to Darrow, despite the fact that the torture even involved threats against his friends and family and the admission (only made in the first chapter and then forgotten), that Darrow actually broke, indeed what this "breaking" actually meant is skated over and never mentioned again. This isn't to say, despite my dislike of Darrow, I actively wanted to see him tortured, but seeing him survive, be scarred emotionally and psychologically and still be triumphant yet have to live with the scars would've made him a far more compelling character, and much more of a hero to me than just the unstoppable force of righteous awesome he is. Indeed I will say I find this sort of main character imperviousness actively offensive, as it makes the characters far less than human however many long sermons about Darrow's feelings of rage and self doubt we get, not to mention making a mockery of anyone in reality who suffers PTSD. In general though Brown tried to give Darrow a little more range of human feelings in this book, the constant rage and cocky belief in his own superiority were still very much present, and scenes of Darrow supposedly being more human often simply devolved into other characters saying how awesome Darrow was, especially when he interacted with the soldiers of the revolution.
That being said, Brown did attempt to make Darrow's emotional range change somewhat, even if enduring actual suffering wasn't part of that, albeit unfortunately once again he is so constantly a super awesome helldiver leader most of the time that often I simply didn't have enough connection to him to really care about moments of humanity, since after all if someone simply shrugs off all injuries and defeats, why exactly should we care whether those around him respect him or whether soldiers who die in his revolution regard him as the ever awesome Reaper or not. This is typified in one incident towards the end of the book in which Darrow receives what should be a shocking and crippling injury, but after mentioning "the pain" and a gory description of that injury, just goes on regardless through several major fights, meaning any potential sympathy I had for Darrow having to live and survive with that injury simply fell flat.
Brown did say in the author's note to Morning Star he realized that he had to write the story more about Darrow's friends and family than about Darrow himself, and here it is true he partially succeeds. Despite Darrow's lack of suffering, I very much enjoyed his reunion with his friends and family, indeed where previously Brown's dialogue swerved only between epic speeches and snarky quips, there were several places here where people came across far more as people, albeit that his employing of cute children was a little heavy handed. I also do see what he was intending in having Darrow interact far more with his friends and the people of the resistance, though the hero worship got a bit much in places, especially with brown's reliance on epic symbols and speeches to immediately prop up Darrow's supposed doubts about the revolution or what he's trying to achieve, doubts which were largely the only real type of emotional journey Darrow really has in the book. Likewise, Darrow's relationships with others are usually very much sign posted, for example we learn that Darrow's brother's wife is "delicate without Eo's fire" because Darrow just tells us as much.
I did appreciate the introduction of Hollyday, a Grey assisting Darrow, mostly because with her Brown simply writes dialogue between two comrades without either quips or epic speeches. One character who also impressed me however was Darrow's Obsidian lieutenant Ragnar. Where in the first book Ragnar was a fairly standard Conan the Barbarian type, here he actually showed a deal more personality, albeit again most of it was fairly brief and rather heavy owing to the fact that we didn't see half as much of Ragnar outside epic combat sequences, and Brown gave much more time to Darrow's friend Sevro, a person who I believe was supposed to be funny, but whose constant stream of toilet humour and insults I found more puerile than amusing, for example a section in which Darrow and some other characters are forced to eat dead cockroaches as part of an initiation into Sevro's gang The Howlers. Sevro also followed Darrow in a casual attitude to violence and general invincibility, one particularly icky section in which he and Darrow compare injuries was especially problematic, since even gallows humour takes a deal of subtlety to portray, and though Brown did attempt a little more subtlety in much of his dialogue, humourous banter not based simply on insults seems a little beyond him. Indeed in general it seemed that the tertiary characters were preferable to the main cast, mostly I suspect because Brown didn't specifically try to be funny or inspiring with them and just write them often as people in their own right, rather than political opponents of Darrow or objects of Darrow's rather inflated and self serving loyalty.
Outside the attempt to elicit emotions, Brown's style was overall an improvement, especially with more workaday chapters interspersed between the efforts at epic, albeit I do rather wish Brown had extended the section where Darrow was not leader of the resistance or awesome planner of battles, indeed the book's beginning where Darrow is being brought up to speed on the war, and actually having to take orders and conflict with friends about which courses to take was to me far more appealing, and I was actually quite sad when things suddenly ramped back up to combat level and we were again faced with Darrow on an impossibly dangerous mission, after which he was constantly the awesome heroic and far less interesting leader to whom all are loyal he'd been for the two proceeding books.
Pacing wise I will say Morning Star is an improvement over Golden Son, albeit I do wish Darrow had remained out of the limelight for more of the action than he does. Generally speaking instead of constant streams of action crescendos, the book has three or four distinct sections each with a fairly definite ending. I particularly liked the fact that we saw rather more of the system, especially the system outside Mars, from the crowded manufacturing town of Phobos, to the sulphurous seas of Io, which also let Brown draw other political factions into the conflict such as the Rim Moon lords, Golds who actually do seem to display a form of honour rather than the decadent Golds we were used to. This also let Brown institute one of his more effective villains and for at least one chapter have Darrow involved in a conflict of words, albeit one which he won with awesome speeches and lies a little too easily for my liking.
The only section setting wise I felt was completely out was the section in which Darrow journeyed to the martian pole to enlist the help of the Obsidians, who had been living in a Naus culture believing the Golds were gods. Once again this let Brown retread the territory of fantasy cliches a little too much, but also I found it hard to believe that warriors raised on medieval weapons and myths would be the amazing fighting force that the Obsidian's seem to be, or would be so proficient at high tech combat. I also again felt the fact that they were convinced due to Darrow's general awesomeness and an attack on the Golds pretending to be the Naus gods a little hard to swallow, indeed if the pacing of the book has one major flaw it's that Brown was a little too quick to end each section (usually with everyone getting behind Darrow or with Darrow directly succeeding), and run straight onto another.
The action in the book is as usual Brown's expected standard, lots of high intensity personal combat and epic space battles with hundreds of ships. Though to an extent Brown does skip between action sequences a little as he did in Golden Son, in general the action is worked up to a little better and paced a bit more completely, meaning that a slow assassination mission turns into a full on war and revolution over a few chapters, making the big pay off a little better. Even though I didn't enjoy the Obsidian section, I will say seeing some of the action based on surviving the elements rather than Darrow's amazing combat skills was a nice change.
The only problem again is the trouble I referred to as Darrow Ex Machina, namely that however bleak Brown writes his action sequences with Darrow and his forces outnumbered, outgunned, and being massacred, there is never any doubt that Darrow has a cunning back up plan up his sleeve and that everything is falling into Darrow's hands. One sequence in fact towards the end of the novel actually beggered my belief on this score, a sequence involving one character literally faking their own death and a series of events so unlikely the idea that Darrow could've planned it ran past belief, I was half expecting someone to pull off a mask Scooby Doo style and say "I would've gotten away with it too if it weren't for you meddling Reds" The only really sad thing is that if it weren't for Darrow's ability to consistently win, much of the action would read as incredibly tense, very spine bending and genuinely scary, indeed during one character’s very closely run duel I felt far more worried for him simply because Darrow wasn't involved (particularly since that was one of the few characters I had some emotional stake in).
I liked the fact that before the ending there are once again one or two chapters without huge action fests or everything at stake. Indeed one sequence in which Darrow and a friend watch videos of their time in the institute during Red Rising seemed almost like Brown attempting to retroactively insert a little decency to that particular gore fest that wasn't there originally, something he actually manages especially given the fact that it was an opportunity to remember a couple of the characters I did actually like who were no longer around.
The major problem I had with Morning Star, and why it didn't earn a higher rating despite being an improvement upon Golden Son, was the issue of violence and hypocrisy. As we'd expect from Pierce Brown, the action sequences involved lots of violence. This is fair enough to an extent, but on several occasions the violence, even from characters who by rights we should be empathising with went into the realms of the gratuitous, ie, seeming to exist just to shock, for example when Darrow not only fires on an enemy until their plasma shield overloads and cooks them alive, but seems to actively leave them to suffer afterwards, rather than ending things quickly. Another sequence, (all the more tasteless after Darrow's own torture), involves Darrow's friend beating someone for information and considering using torture, something Darrow only objects to when he recognizes the person involved, combine this with the fact that neither of these segments has any call back, guilt or consequence and you have a book where liking the protagonist is extremely difficult, especially when said protagonist is still telling us about his rage and how awesome he himself is. Indeed it bothered me that while Darrow gives us again long, decidedly self obsessed sermons on his own self doubt, the fact that he kills people in highly unpleasant ways or the suffering he himself inflicts directly never seems to occur to him, and it's rather difficult to get behind someone who is wondering "whether I am worthy to uphold Eo's dream", when they are quite casual about the slaughter they do. This continues right up until the end, when Darrow graphically, and painfully mutilates one of his enemies under the guise of "justice".
I also found the degree of hypocrisy in Darrow's actions at times extremely hard to take. For example Darrow at one stage actively causes the deaths of thousands of innocents and sells out his own side, then later when Darrow is repudiating an enemy's talk about "sacrifices" to justify his own slaughter of innocents I found myself wondering about pots and kettles. Of course, any book detailing a war will involve casualties, and indeed innocent casualties, and a good author will show characters actually having to cope with the trouble of trying to minimize these and the moral issues they must go through when people do die, or when they themselves need to kill others. Darrow however seemed rather too quick to jump straight off the deep end where sacrifices are concerned, particularly because Brown especially in this book seemed often to confuse combat, gore and suffering, after all it's one thing to have a main character in a fight to the death where they must kill an opponent, quite another to have a main character deliberately make their opponent suffer for the hell of it. What is worse is Brown does actually recognize this on several occasions, and I will say that one segment in which another character demonstrated what might happen if righteous rage went too far was a surprisingly effective gesture, however Brown immediately back tracks upon this assertion by having Darrow freely make sacrifices and indeed exact his own "justice" with rather extreme prejudice, and, from Darrow's again first person, self aggrandizing justification, we were supposed to be fully behind this. Unfortunately the conclusion I got to was that war and killing is a bad thing, unless perpetrated by Darrow in which case it was tragic and noble.
The book ends not quite with a complete victory, but at least with enough of one to mean change might be in the offing for the society, something which I would perhaps have a bit more sympathy for had the book been focused less on Darrow and more on the society generally. Indeed the final ending in which it was going to be suggested Darrow would try to be a husband and father my first thought was that I hope Darrow's son's okay having an egotistical borderline psychopath for a father, and though the constant reiteration of how much Darrow valued his friends was I think supposed to be touching, again the over inflated prose and rather bald statement of emotion made Darrow come across rather more as loving himself for loving others, rather than someone who had the capacity to be selfless, or even minimally decent.
All in all Morning Star was okay, but there were far too many holes, indeed more holes than in Golden Son despite the standard of writing being generally an improvement and Brown at least attempting more by way of characterization. Undoubtedly for those who like action Morning Star has lots of it, and the action is done well, however a book can't survive on action alone, and it's unfortunately in its other aspects, character, morality, consistency, and above all Darrow himself that the book falls off, indeed in many ways Morning Star feels far more like a first novel than Red Rising did.
Certainly not a book I will be revisiting any time soon, and not one I'd exactly recommend.
Dark, 4/10 "I still want to kill Darrow in the face, for justice!"
2 positive reader review(s) for Morning Star
Emma from America
Morning star...Pierce's imagination is a wonderful, beautiful, bastard of a thing. He started with what could have easily been a typical YA novel premise with society being segregated into a hierarchy of colors with Gold at the top and Red at the bottom. He introduces a rebellion when a Red told to "break the chains" and "live for more." Honestly the reason I was so reticent to begin this series is that it sounded like another cookie cutter YA novel. It's even been hailed as the next HUNGER GAMES. The RED RISING series is so much more than that. There's some HUNGER GAMES in its DNA but you can also find ENDER'S GAME, DUNE, STAR WARS, WARHAMMER 40,000, GAME OF THRONES, and (according to a recent interview with Pierce Brown) even the video game RED FACTION. The space opera universe that Pierce brings to life is so vivid and imaginative. He borrows from history and mythology and acknowledges it in his writing. As impressive is the world building is, none of it would mean a thing if Pierce didn't populate it with a colorful cast of amazing characters. There are so many powerful personalities at play in MORNING STAR. Pierce gives you villains you love to hate and villains you can almost respect. He gives you heroes that you can root for in triumph and suffer with in defeat. And boyo does he make them suffer. The way GOLDEN SON leaves off left me clutching my chest, unsure how I could go on with life. It's a bit of an exaggeration but for real -- I finished reading it right before class one day and it was extremely difficult to concentrate for the rest of the day. Darrow is as dynamic a character as I've ever known. His character arc isn't linear. He learns and loves, he makes mistakes and takes hits. He is always growing, even if it's not necessarily always in the direction he needs to be growing in. His pride and arrogance are often his greatest weaknesses. As for his greatest strengths? His friends. And the greatest of his friends? Obviously it's fan favorite Sevro au Barca, Goblin King and leader of the Howlers. Seriously, Pierce Brown deserves an award for the creation of Sevro. He's the Han Solo to Darrow's Luke Skywalker...if Han Solo was a brash, crude, vulgar, dangerous, hilarious, loyal, lovable, blood-soaked maniac.
Alex from America
Emotionally powerful and thought provoking, Morning Star brings a mythological feel while also bringing conclusions to all its characters and improving both installments before it.
9/10 from 3 reviews