nota bene: This review has been redacted for spoilers. The full, unedited review can be found on my Goodreads
The bodies are no longer stacked pretty high anymore; they’re nailed to trees and impaled in nice, neat lines. They’re losing their heads in violent mobs and dying from radiation on a war-torn planet. The solar system is now but a wasteland of the dead, And Darrow has swift become king of the ashes.
The Red Rising series has always, for me, been a fascination treatise on the consequences of one’s actions. From the very first book, Darrow has had to navigate the fallout of every single choice that he has made in the wake of Eo’s death. And the massive choice to break the Empire — as morally right as we know that choice to have been — is having some incredibly disastrous and bloody, far-reaching consequences. Many of which, I’d wager, Darrow and the rest of his cadre of allies could not have anticipated.
Right about half of this novel is spent languishing in the bloodshed upon Mercury. This is a battle with heavy costs — we’ve always known this. We’ve always known that war is not glorious; it is cruel and brutal and inexorably horrific. We lose people we love as well as the people we hate. We even lose the people we never knew we cared about, and it is horrible. But it’s also wildly compelling. Pierce Brown does what filmmakers like Michael Bay wish they could do: compelling, large-scale action and slaughter in the chaos of battle. Why? Because with Pierce Brown there is a purpose.
Oscar Wilde once said that “everything is about sex; sex is about power,” and I’d like to posit that essentially the same applies to action and/or war. All of it is about power and the undercurrents between the players involved. It’s sex…but with guns and ships and weather robot things. Brown delivers a masterclass in writing all of this within the Battle for Mercury.
Now, whatever anyone’s feelings towards Lysander — personally, I pitied the kid in Iron Gold — his transformation through this war is a terrible wonder to behold. A young man seeking to find himself and where he fits in this chaotic new world. As we saw in Iron Gold, Lysander sees no place for himself and, thus, decides to join those who wish The Society of old — and which benefitted almost exclusively them — to return. In experiencing on Mercury the full force and extent of Darrow’s practically fabled rage and wrath, especially upon the battlefield, Lysander morphs and evolves into a new, even more terrifying creature. He makes his own journey towards becoming his own kind of monster. One that could be on par with some kind of hybrid of Cassius and The Jackal.
But Dark Age is not all outright military conflict — there’s a whole bunch of political machinations going on as well and thank you, Pierce Brown, for giving us Mustang’s POV. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I have wanted her POV for ages and wow was it so worth it. Mustang is brilliant — arguably the smartest character in the series. Actually, probably not even arguably, she is the smartest character in the series. Which is why seeing her fall, and the horrific bloody takeover of the Solar Republic is all the more shocking and felt all the more keenly. Even moreso when we find out who was behind the insidious destruction of the Solar Republic.
I…honestly still don’t even know how to process that twist — truly, I didn’t see that one coming at all. I mean, now that I’ve sat and looked back upon it, there were definitely signs for a good chunk of it, but damn. Talk about shifting the fucking paradigm and then upending the whole table. It almost feels chaotic, and yet it’s a controlled chaos. It’s chaos so cleverly engineered and orchestrated that it’s only once you look harder and deeper at it that you realize it’s, in fact, absolutely, diabolically genius…and that only one character could be that terrifyingly smart.
And you only start to see just how smart this character is when you spend time in Ephraim’s story with the Obsidians on their home. Ephraim has been one of the most fully-realized and complicated characters since, well, his introduction in Iron Gold. I didn’t always agree with his decisions, but I certainly understood where they came from; his grief and rage was palpable and comprehensible given the events of his life and especially those post-The Rising. So when Sefi brings Ephraim in to train her warriors in deception — a terrifying concept: Obsidians with knowledge and aptitude of deception — we get to experience the culture shock of what are essentially space vikings. Brutal space vikings. With their own legends of ghosts and demons that turn out to be something terrifyingly real…to a degree.
These dead, dark ghosts of the past have all risen up from the dead to haunt our protagonists. Except it’s more like haunting via death and destruction and the complete dismantling of an, admittedly, flawed machine from the inside-out.
I’m going to make a bold claim here: not only is Dark Age the best installment in this saga since Golden Son, but it’s absolutely on par with that novel…maybe even a bit better? I don’t know, but it’s most certainly a masterpiece. Where Golden Son was like The Iliad brought to a future space opera-age, Dark Age is some kind of Oresteia on crack with more drama than Aeschylus would want to dream.
Dark Age is the clattering gong of consequence that is now ringing out across the solar system — the road to hell has been paved with over a decade of good intentions. Now we’re dancing with the devils…gods help us.