Friday, February 8, 2019

Morning Star (Red Rising #3) - Pierce Brown

NOTE:  This is the third book in the Red Rising series.  If you haven't read them yet, check out our review of the first book, Red Risingor the second, Golden Son.

Summary:  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 to glorious to surrender.  (Summary from book - Image from amazon.com)

My Review:  Why is it that every time I finish a book in this series, I feel as if I've been tased, run through an emotional meat grinder, and thrown into a hurricane?  Seriously, people.  I'm coming down off a massive adrenaline high.  It's both amazing and kinda awful, which is pretty much exactly how I would describe this book.**

All the ways this book is amazing:  First, Morning Star begins with a brief but helpful recap of each of the two previous books in the series, Red Rising and Golden Son.  I don't know about you but if I have to wait between books in a series, sometimes I need the refresher and the recaps were helpful in that regard.  It also begins with Darrow, outed as a Red and in the hands of his enemies, weakened and imprisoned in the dark confines of a stone box.  Talk about motivation to read.  There are at least two more books in the series, so you kind suspect he's going to make it to the next one, but oh how I wanted to read him out of that box.  SPOILER:  He does...and in spectacular style.

Morning Star is only part of an epic battle for power set in our solar system.  From Mercury to Pluto and the various moons in between, it feels utterly massive in scope.  Ordinarily, I'd feel lost in the sea of battle and intrigue, the swirl of it all, but the characters are what kept me anchored.  Like the other books in the series, this book is brimming with fascinating characters -- not just Darrow, but the secondary and tertiary ones as well.  The author didn't feel the need to make anyone fit a perfect super-hero mold.  Each comes with their own story and motivations, weaknesses, strengths, and fears. These characters brought dimension and life to the story.  They are what made me care.  I had already become very attached to some of the characters from previous books -- Darrow (obviously), Mustang, Roque, Ragnar, Cassius, Victra, and even Sevro (the most lovably unlovable good-guy you'll probably ever meet) and was completely hooked on their individual stories, whether they played out for good or ill.  I fell hard for some of the new characters as well, though I won't name them just yet.  At this point, I'm so deeply invested in the story, its characters, and the final outcome, I don't think anything (short of Darrow imprinting on a vampire baby named Renesmee) could pry me away from this series.

I loved the themes of loyalty, equality, and sacrifice that have threaded throughout the series, and especially come to light in this book.  Darrow believes that a person is more than their color or the life to which they have been born.  He is unswervingly loyal to those he loves and willing to sacrifice everything he has -- his own life and, if necessary, the lives of others, if it serves a higher purpose. You'd think his willingness to sacrifice others would make him a hard man to love, but it's quite the opposite. I loved this quote from the book, as Darrow recovers from a long captivity:

I've never been a man of joy or a man of war, or an island in a storm...that was what I pretended to be.  I am and always have been a man who is made complete by those around him.  I feel strength growing in myself.  A strength I haven't felt in so long.  It's not only that I'm loved.  It's that they believe in me.  Not the mask like my soldiers at the Institute.  Not the false idol I build in the service of Augustus, but the man beneath."  

Darrow is no ordinary action hero.  He isn't afraid to love, to cry, or to forgive.  Though his actions are sometimes hard to take, Darrow can be trusted to make the impossible call, even if it breaks him to do it.  This devotion to his fellow comrades, his family, and the cause, never fail to inspire others to follow him and in the end (at least the end of this book) he isn't the only one willing to sacrifice all. 

All the ways this book is awful:  Plain and simple, Morning Star will rip your heart out and possibly a few other internal organs as well.  Then, it will cram them back in (hopefully in the right order) before ripping them out again and playing a lovely game of tic-tac-toe with your entrails.  Then back in again they go.  No, I am not exaggerating.  If you're even remotely invested in certain characters you better brace yourself.  Some of them will be ripped away.  No, I am not going to tell you WHO.  But there is so. much. loss. of. life.

Let's be honest, if you've made it to this point in the series, you probably aren't sensitive to violence or language.  At this point I'm rather desensitized to both, but even I noticed the ramped-up body count and increased profanity.  So, whatever you might be imagining, multiply it by three....and then ten.  That should be about right.  I don't read a lot of high violence books on a regular basis, but I just got finished reading Bird Box so I feel like my frame of reference is on point right now. 

A little bit of both: The up-left-down-right-up-down roller coaster of it all is one of the best and worst things about this book.  I was on the edge of my seat for most of the book and I never had to wait very long for the next big twist; a turn of the page reveals unexpected allies and hidden enemies.  Darrow always seems to have something up his sleeve, in fact, a great many people do.  When the battle seems unwinnable (or in the bag), that's when everything you thought you knew gets thrown out the window.  In Darrow's own words,

"I'm a bl**dyd**n Helldiver with an army of giant, mildly psychotic women behind me and a fleet of state-of-the-art warships crewed by pissed-off pirates, engineers, techs, and former slaves.  And he thinks he knows how to fight me?"

In this book anything can happen, and frequently does.  If you decide to read it, buckle up.

UPDATE:  I have read the two books that have been released following this one (Iron Gold and Dark Age).  I have decided that, for me, the end of Morning Star is the end of the series.  At least in my head.  The violence, swearing, and gut-wrenching loss only get worse from here on out.

My Rating:  4.5 Stars.  (I should probably give it a 4 because of the increase in violence and language.  But...well, I don't want to.)

For the sensitive reader:  A staggering amount of profanity and violence, with some sexual innuendo.  Sensitive readers should look elsewhere.  I mean it.  Don't read this and then come complain to me about the swearing and kill-count.   You've been warned.

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