A series of books as dense as the Red Rising Trilogy, with its scores of named characters, 700 years of history and labyrinth of plot turns, makes a lot of promises along the way. Even through the narrow lens of only one first person narrator, multiple character arcs, subplots and political intrigues have developed which each demand a satisfactory resolution. Is the young author Pierce Brown up to providing that satisfaction?
Yes. Morning Star is everything a final book in a series should be – compelling, surprising, heartbreaking, hopeful and ultimately, yes, pretty damn satisfying.
Morning Star starts off in a dark place. Pitch black, really. There is no light in the hole where our hero, Darrow of Lykos, has been kept securely bound to the floor in complete isolation, his only companions his chains and the tubes that keep him alive. He’s been down there for months, years, maybe a decade. What is time anymore except eternally long? Knowing the hero that Darrow is, what we have seen him accomplish and become, I wanted him to find some ingenious means of escape. But he has been placed in an impossible situation. There is no escape. He can only be rescued.
When he does see the light again, he learns a year has passed since his capture. Three months of torture, followed by nine months in his coffin-like pit. That pit and the darkness were meant to break him. It almost did. But once he is in the realm of the free again, it is evident his time in the pit was the last bit of education he needed. Now he can grow from the face of a rebellion into the builder of a new world.
There’s a lot of battling to be done before the foundations of that new world can be poured. And the turns of those battles aren’t giving this new age an easy birth. As exciting as these battles are to experience, even more compelling than the clever mix of Odysseus and Mongol tactics is watching Darrow, despite his idealism, become an old school general who knows that the currency of war is lives. He is willing to spend that currency, sacrificing thousands of his own people on one gambit or another in the practical pursuit of the greater goal.
Considering how large the grand villains of the novel loom in the minds of our heroes, these villains play relatively small roles in the action of the book. They definitely have presence. They definitely matter. But really they are stand-ins for the true villain of this world, the villain which is truly fought on every page, and that is the oppressive society which has reigned cruelly for 700 years. The self-sustaining system is the real enemy. And convincing, without exterminating, the beneficiaries of that system to accept a more just existence is Darrow’s greatest obstacle to peace.
Morning Star is easily the best book in a very good trilogy. Not only is Brown developing as an author, but Morning Star is relieved of the duty of rapid world building which bogged down the opening of Red Rising, and the plotting has largely matured above the random-seeming, authorial-cheating-feeling surprises which exhausted many sections of the still enjoyable Golden Son. It’s a pleasure to watch Brown expertly close the loops on so many characters and their subplots in ways that always feel right, even if they are not always merry.
A few subplots are left hanging. And that’s fine. Except... sure, Brown might want some sparks still floating around in case he decides to relight this powder keg at some point in the future, but I really would like to know who was tipping off Cassius to Darrow’s whereabouts. Cassius’s materializations made for some pivotal scenes in this book and the last where it appeared the gods were pulling some mighty big levers in the machine. That said, the conclusion to this series was such a joy, that as a reader I’m willing to grant Mr. Brown his one convenient mystery.
If you’ve read the first two books, don’t delay in finishing the trilogy off with Morning Star, which was just released earlier this week. It’s fantastic. If you haven’t jumped into the Red Rising Trilogy yet, now is a great time to dive. No risk is left lingering. There is no more waiting between books and you don’t have to worry that the conclusion is going to leave you feeling like a punk. Every dystopia should treat its readers so well.