PLEASE NOTE: This review contains SPOILERS for the entirety of the Red Rising trilogy.
I’m not entirely sure on how to write this review. Truly, I’m not.
I guess I can start with what I said this morning to my friend Rebecca when she asked me how Morning Star was and whether or not I was dying yet — fun fact: I was — and I responded:
Once upon a time, a man wrote a red book and shot my emotions out of an airlock into the cold, dark vacuum of space. I thanked him for it, and moved on to the golden sequel which took my heart and pummeled it into pieces so small, I was no longer sure there was anything left within the cavity of my chest. Now, I am plunging into darkness, whatever remains of that life-organ too terrified to beat for fear that man and his Morning Star will truly obliterate it for good.
If you want the TL;DR version of this review: it did. It really did.
I spent almost 25 minutes explaining how Red Rising was one of the best books I’d ever read in a video review; I calledGolden Son the Empire Strikes Back of the trilogy here on Goodreads, a compliment I have never before paid to a book; and now I find myself in the position of having to try to find even more praise to heap upon the bloodydamn genius piece of storytelling that is Morning Star.
I also need to figure out how to do this through a haze of tears. Tears of pain, of joy, of shock and horror — tears of every emotional colour you can imagine. I’m not a big crier when it comes to books; plunk me down in front of a film and just call me Niobe, but with books? Nah. I can count the times on maybe two hands, only because three fingers are devoted for each book in this trilogy.
There was my life before Red Rising, and my life after it.
It feels like so long ago that I picked up Red Rising on a whim, spending the last few dollars of an Amazon gift card to pick up the kindle book and audiobook in a bundle that cost me maybe $5. If I’d only known what a steal that was, I’d have actually started reading the book a lot sooner. Needless to say, once I started, I couldn’t stop. I flipped between the ebook and the audiobook for convenience, constantly changing chapters in either one as I careened through the story of Darrow au Andromedus (née of Lykos). I wept with him when he pulled the feet of his wife, Eo, and dared to bury her when the societal elite demanded otherwise. I felt the sheer physical agony when Mickey carved him, when Dancer and Harmony molded him into a living weapon. And I howled with Darrow as he survived the hell that was the Institute; I howled in victory, in defeat, in glory and in rage.
Barely a few months later I had a much-coveted digital ARC of Golden Son loaded onto my kindle, and I devoured that book like a drowning man who’s suddenly been given air. I held my breath with Darrow as he jumped from starships and dueled former friends. I loved Mustang with him; bristled at the Jackal with him; laughed at Sevro’s crude jokes and squealed with delight at the inclusion of the Stained Obsidian, Ragnar. I relished in Gold blood spilt in a civil war of Darrow’s making, and let my jaw drop when Fitchner revealed the truth. And, more than all of that, I felt the horrible, cold hollowness of betrayal when Roque turned Judas and left me swearing with rage at a box like Brad Pitt’s broken Detective Mills in Se7en.
And here I am now, raging towards the end — towards the ending of this literary light.
After being forged in the hard bowels of Brown’s intense world, in the pain of Red Rising and Golden Son, I thought I was ready. I was a fool; I was prepared for nothing. Absolutely nothing. I wasn’t prepared to once again feel for Cassius and Roque; to cry out in agony for Ragnar the way I did for Pax; to love Sevro and Victra the way I did Darrow and Mustang. I wasn’t prepared for “a bloodydamn Helldiver with an army of giant, mildly psychotic women behind [him] and a fleet of state-of-the-art warships crewed by pissed-off pirates, engineers, techs, and former slaves” to engage in warfare that left me breathless, clutching at my chest for fear that my heart had actually burst through my ribcage.
Nobody writes action like Pierce Brown. It’s kinetic and relentless, just like Darrow; but it’s also gory and brutal, never shying for the horror that we sometimes forget when watching films: that everything has a cost, that the people we have come to love can die — and sometimes they die for no reason at all. I read these scenes with the childish glee of one who loves her action scenes, and the sickening fear of a reader who has come to care for these characters, even the ones I feel I should rightly despise by virtue of believing in the protagonist.
But that’s the genius of Brown’s writing: most of his “villains” aren’t really that at all. From their perspective, Darrow is the terrorist and they are the heroes. In any other world, they would be the heroes. Except perhaps the Jackal; he’s got too many screws loose in his head and, though I pity him and find him interesting, I don’t think that boy could ever be the hero. Then again, there is that saying, “Every villain is a hero in his own mind,” so, who knows?
I could howl this book’s — no, this entire trilogy’s praises from here to the moon, to Mars, to even the Rim and back. I could extoll its virtues — how it has such hope in the decency of mankind, even while showing it at its fictional darkest. How every single character mentioned on any page is fully-realized, male and female alike, so that, no matter how hard you try to pick favourites, you just end up caring for all of them — or maybe that’s just me. I could tell you that I have never been so excited for a book, nor cried so hard during one (more than once!) as I did for Morning Starsince Deathly Hallows back in 2007.
But I don’t have to: the trilogy speaks for itself, and we readers are lucky to have been graced with Pierce Brown’s magnificent gift for storytelling. So…thank you, Pierce Brown. Thank you for crafting this story. Thank you for writing it down and sharing it with all of us. In a dark world, you’ve given us a rising tide of sons and daughters who shine brighter than the morning star itself and it’s a bloodydamn, gorydamn beautiful thing.