“Sometimes, little one, it’s best if the worlds think you a little mad.”
Okay. Right. No, wait, we’re not ready yet.
*pours self a glass of whiskey*
*takes a sip*
Ahhh, yes…that’s better.
Mmm. No. No we’re not there yet.
*goes into the corner and screams unendingly into the void*
OKAY. NOW we are as ready as we’ll ever be to talk about this book. I mean, I should know better: isn’t this always the case with a new Red Rising book? I convince myself that I’m prepared only to discover that I am oh-so-woefully not. Nope. Never. Never emotionally prepared for a Red Rising book.
War eats the victors last.
I’m not even sure where to start, but I guess I could start with stating how excited I was for this book. You see, maybe it’s just me, but I love a good revolution/rebellion story. I mean, hello, Star Wars has been banging those out for decades and I still eat it up like it’s the best thing in the world, even while acknowledging it can often be a little on the side of simple black-and-white “good guy v bad guy.” Nothing wrong with that, mind, but when it comes to books, I like to have something a little more morally grey — I want my protagonists incredibly flawed and to do things that make me want to wring their necks; I want antagonists whose perspectives I can understand and who make me constantly question my own morality when I agree with them, even on the smallest of things.
So that’s why, when something’s just tied up neatly with a bow and has no implications of far-reaching socio-economic-political consequences at the end, I’m left going: okay, but…what else? What comes next? You don’t just break something for it to magically put itself back together. In the case of Morning Star, despite the relatively triumphant end of the novel, it was an end that cost, and it was an end that still hinted at difficulty in the future for the characters. After all: if you break an empire, you bloodydamn buy it.
And buy it our characters have. Ten years on, we see that the biggest questions being asked about the new Solar Republic are: does it even really work? What exactly has risen from the ashes of the burnt empire?
This is not the start of a new trilogy so much as a continuation of the story begun in Red Rising, and it’s a continuation I am absolutely, 100% here for. These are the issues I love to see addressed in a story: I want to watch my flawed faves (who, you know…didn’t die) deal with problems that grate against their very being, that force them to make a lot of difficult — and in many cases, VERY STUPID — decisions. Decisions, mind, that are all completely in line with their characters as we’ve come to know them in three previous books.
“It is our duty to embrace the scars our choices give us, to embrace and remember our mistakes, else we live believing our own myth.” She smiles to herself. “He says a man who believes his own myth is like a drunk thinking he can dance barefoot on a razor’s edge.”
Which means, if you’re like me, you will spend a lot of this book internally screeching and wanting to wring various characters’ necks while also slapping some sense into them. Ten years on, and they are definitely still themselves, if not a little older, and in some ways a little wiser. Darrow is having to deal with the fact he is a man of war in what is meant to be a time of peace; he’s still hot-headed and doesn’t always think things through before leaping right into the fire, and, as always, every single one of his actions has far-reaching consequences.
Darrow has always been like some sort of Akhilleus (Achilles): burning and raging so bright that he drowns out everything around him, causing a plethora of collateral damage. And while he bears every one of those deaths and those losses, it doesn’t always make him stop. He thinks what he is doing is right, even when those around him tell him otherwise, or attempt to steer him elsewhere. Much of the novel is about Darrow’s own nature working against him in a time of relative peace: he’s a warrior and a fighter, which spells trouble when he has to navigate the politicking of the Solar Republic he helped to found.
Of course, that was always Mustang’s strength, and her attempts to work with what she has left ten years after the Rising are so compelling — my one little (and I do mean little) complaint with the book is that we did not get more of her. What we got was absolutely fantastic, and Mustang continues to be one of the best characters of this saga, but I wish we’d gotten a little more time with her, especially given the events of the story and the fact that we also get to spend some quality time with her and Darrow’s son, Pax (PRECIOUS SMOL BEAN). I have great hope (and great anxiety) for this child and he grew so much over the course of the book that I felt like such a proud parent by its end. Also Sevro’s daughter is a bloodydamn badass and I forever want her and Pax as some sort of team. It’s great.
Of course Sevro and Victra are back and it’s really in Sevro that I think we see the most development. Here is a man who has always been on the wild side: a delightfully vicious shit who spat in the face of so much of the Gold society and expected manners of behaviour. We love him for it, because it cut through all the masks of decorum, all the bullshit that defined Gold. He was also a young man on the extreme — he was the perfect way to temper Darrow by being the living embodiment of going way too far. And yet, in Iron Gold, while Sevro has certainly lost none of his edge and bite, we see how fatherhood has softened him in the best ways. We see him thinking beyond just his own delight int he art (and sport) of battle, slaughter, and war. His most poignant moments are when he talks about his children, and how he wants nothing more than to ensure they do not grow up as he did: without a father.
Pardon me, my heart is melting.
But, like I said: these are still the characters we know, love, and frequently want to throttle for their decisions. Because there are some seriously costly decisions made in Iron Gold, and the consequences of those decisions are still unfolding, as we’ll see in the later two books of this saga. Hell, even the actions of the past still echo forth their consequences far out across the Solar System.
My name is Lysander au Lune. I was named for a contradiction: a Spartan general who had the mind of an Athenian. Like that man, I was born into something that is both mine and not-mine, a heritage of world breakers and tyrants.
Which is where we find Lysander au Lune and Cassius au Bellona. They’re out on the Rim, a place we only glimpsed in Morning Star and to that I was positively stoked to return. The Moonlords are seemingly cut from a different cloth when compared with the other Gold families we meet, and those differences are what make them fascinating; their’s is a different history and different culture due to their place in the solar system. And yet, within those nuances, we also see the similarities: they are Gold, and they behave as one would imagine the Iron Golds of the past would.
Lysander’s story is one of the most emotionally heartbreaking, frustrating, and fascinating. Here is a 20-year old man who lived the entire first half of his life being told he would inherit everything — that he would, one day, rule the world. How does that affect one in the earliest, most formative years of their life? Especially when, suddenly, all of that is ripped away, and everything/everyone that you knew is dead and gone. Your entire life philosophy suddenly null and void, said to be “incorrect.” That’s a lot of heavy shit to lay on the shoulders of a 10-year old, even one that’s Gold.
And, while I love Cassius, he may not have been the best choice to care for Lysander. Sure, hindsight is 20/20, so we can now see all the cracks in the foundation of what Cassius attempted to teach Lysander, but it comes down to the simple fact that Cassius still needed to repair himself. Cassius was our mirror-image of Darrow, someone who was broken down from the inside out, who craved honour in an honourless world, and who, ultimately, had to make the difficult choice of turning against everything that he knew. It cost him, and it shows. This was a broken young man who took a young child under his wing and attempted to mould him before being able to look inside and repair himself. As a result, we see how the relationship between Lysander and Cassius has frayed to the point that, as Lysander notes, he has “outgrown” Cassius.
Lysander’s journey is ultimately one of self-discovery and self-affirmation: he doesn’t really know who he is, and throughout the novel he struggles with reconciling the disparate parts of himself. Do I necessarily agree with the decisions he makes along the way, especially in the back third of the novel? Not at all. I think they’re frustrating and stupid and piss me off, but I 100% understand his perspective. I understand why he’s making the choices he is, and why he thinks they are the (esoterically) “right” decisions. By the end of the novel, we see how Lysander’s boyhood has been utterly shattered; “all that was left of him is dead, and the life of the man must begin.”
Side note: if you’re like me, there are things that happen in Lysander’s storyline that will make you weep buckets.
BUCKETS, I TELL YOU.
“I know it may be impossible to believe now, when everything is dark and broken, but you will survive this pain, little one. Pain is a memory. You will live and you will struggle and you will find joy. And you will remember your family from this breath to your dying days, because love does not fade. Love is the stars, and its light carries on long after death.”
Lyria is our first, truly new perspective of the four POV characters — we have not met her in any way prior to this novel, nor have we heard about her tangentially. And hers is, perhaps, the most important perspective of all the four characters, especially as it pertains to that big question: what happens when you break the empire? Because it is those on the ground, those who are at the bottom who are most affected, whether it be both positively or negatively. Lyria is a character who saw our previous heroes as just that: heroes. Darrow was the “father, liberator, warlord, Slave King, Reaper; Mustang was “Virginia the Lionheart”; Sevro and the Howlers were like holy knights. These people — these terribly flawed humans, who we as readers have known intimately and grown to love, were made out like living gods in the eyes of the most exploited and abused by the system of the Society.
So when your gods are revealed to be wholly human and disappoint you? That is more than a tough pill to swallow. Ten years on, Lyria’s perspective shows us how, ultimately, few things have changed for those on the ground level. Yes, the kind of ignorance and childlike blind acceptance of the Society has been stripped away, but in that knowledge of their own self-worth, the lowColors also know all too keenly that their situation has not necessarily improved in a drastic way. The danger of being the living god who “rescues” these lowColors and yet does not immediately give them something akin to paradise, means they will harbour resentment — absolutely understandable and in many ways justified resentment, but resentment and anger nonetheless.
And Lyria is angry — her anger could, at times rival Darrow’s for its intensity, though she certainly is better at reeling herself back in as opposed to taking physical action as a result of her anger. She holds everything in, and the pain of all that anger and resentment and loss festering within her is visceral and palpable. I will admit, it took me a while to fully gel with Lyria, because it’s not always easy to love the character who’s angry at all your previous faves even while completely understanding and sympathising with her feelings. I get it, I truly do, and I think her perspective is one of the most vital to the entirety of the narrative, because she helps to force the reader to reexamine all of our faves’ decisions, because now we truly see how said decisions affect everyone else.
Also Lyria’s POV just further proved to me that KAVAX AU TELEMANUS AND HIS BEAUTIFUL FOX, SOPHOCLES, ARE HEROES WE DON’T DESERVE AND MUST BE PROTECTED AT ALL BLOODYDAMN COST.
“If you didn’t like how things were going, you could have stuck around, made a difference. But I guess it’s easier sitting in the cheap seats, throwing bottles.”
Finally I need to talk about Ephraim, a character we met kind of tangentially in Morning Star as the fiancé of the dearly departed (and sorely missed) Trigg ti Nakamura — I’m still not over it! — and brother-in-law of Holiday ti Nakamura, who thankfully returns in the novel as one of the most level-headed characters in the series, and one of our wonderful connected threads between several of the perspectives. Ephraim is another character who holds on to his rage and his pain: he has become disillusioned with the Rising and long-since abandoned it.
Like Lyria he may, at first, be a hard character to connect with, for while we understand his pain and feel it keenly, Ephraim behaves in absolutely condemnable fashion as a result of this pain. He makes a decision to take a job that, once we realise what that job is, made me want to beat him to a bloody pulp. Yes, I pitied him; yes, I completely sympathised with his feelings…BUT THAT DOES NOT MAKE THE THINGS HE DOES OKAY.
But Ephraim did give me the character of Volga and…wow, what can I say about Volga. I am full-blown going to lead this #VolgaProtectionSquad because this sweet bean of a “small” Obsidian is wonderful and beautiful and deserves to be protected at all costs. And her calling out Ephraim as a “monster” for what he’s done, for calling out his shitty behaviour towards her and other people as a result of his pain, and just being an all-around beautiful soul is MY GORYDAMN AESTHETIC AND I LOVE HER.
Please don’t take her from me, Pierce Brown. Please. I will beg and plead and cry and bribe you with things if I must…please don’t take her from me.
War summons the demons from angels
What else can I say about this book? It absolutely wrecked me emotionally — but this isn’t that unusual given how this series always makes me feel. I’m forever in a state of high anxiety: terrified to keep going because of how relentless the books out, but also terrified to stop reading because I feel a physical need to keep going and essentially inhale Pierce Brown’s glorious prose. It’s not too often you find books, let alone multiple books in a series, that tell a consistently breathtaking and intriguing story, with a wide, diverse range of characters you love, hate, and everything in between, while also addressing a plethora of prescient and thoughtful themes.
This is more than just a worthy continuation of the series — it’s a daring and necessary one. We broke the empire, now we’ve bought it, whether or not we like it.
Pulvis et umbra sumus.