Dark Age by Pierce Brown
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Series: Red Rising Saga (Book #5 of 6)
Genre: Science fiction, Space Opera, Dystopia
Pages: 800 pages (UK Hardback edition)
Published: 30th July 2019 by Hodder (UK) & 30th July 2019 by Del Rey (US)
Gory (literally) damn insane, violent, bleak, and ruthless. Helldivers, prepare your soul to be hell-drilled by Dark Age’s brutality.
“During war, the laws are silent.”—Quintus Tullius Cicero
Two things first. If it has been a long time since you’ve read Iron Gold or Red Rising Saga, I strongly recommend you to reread the entire series before you read Dark Age. I didn’t do this and I truly believe that my reading experience of this book suffered from it. Secondly, throughout the years since Red Rising publication, many people still insist that this series is for YA audience; by the time you read this book, you’ll probably be traumatized or maybe even loathe this book for its extreme darkness. Seriously, Dark Age is one of the darkest, bleakest, and goriest novel I’ve ever read in my life; the humor and heartwarming aspect of the series that’s usually common to find are close to non-existent in this installment. I will edit this review in the future when I’ve reread the series from the beginning in preparation for the sixth and—maybe—last book of the series, but for now, this is my thoughts and opinions on my first read-through Dark Age.
“With every new endeavor, there’s always the hope that you will find happiness, be less lonely.”
I’ve mentioned this before, out of all the books released in 2019, A Little Hatred by Joe Abercrombie and Dark Age by Pierce Brown are at the top of my most anticipated release list. I’ve pre-ordered Dark Age since February 2018, that’s one year six months ahead. I’ve never done that for any book, ever. My expectations for these books were extremely high, A Little Hatred exceeded it, but sadly, for the first time ever, I have to say that although I still enjoyed it overall, I didn’t find Dark Age, a book hailed by many of his fans as the best book in saga so far, as enjoyable as I hoped.
“I once thought the greatest sin of war was violence. It isn’t. The greatest sin is it requires good men to become practical.”
Dark Age is the fifth and penultimate installment of the Red Rising Saga by Pierce Brown. By this point of the series, it’s safe to say that I can’t talk about the plot at all unless I risked spoiling the story. Let me just say there’s no happy moment for the protagonists, and everyone is constantly tortured, tormented, maimed, and killed. How about that? The title of the book pretty much implied the tone of the book already: full-throttle darkness, depression, gore, brutality, bleak, death, violence, violence, and violence; this is by far the bleakest and darkest installment in the series so far. I honestly never expected the series to ever become this dark, and with the escalation of darkness, the pacing of the book felt off to me. There were many moments of supposed intensity that felt desensitized because of everlasting pages of explicit gorefest with no break. Imagine reading attempted rapes, impalements, genital mutilations, drug abuse, maimed, gore, deaths; you name it and it’s all here, for hundreds of pages. After a while, the constant exposure to explicit details of violence ended up becoming boredom. Pierce Brown is at his best when he combined hope, humor, and heartwarming moments with despair and terror into his narrative that’s full of thrilling action sequences. Unfortunately, this brilliance was lost most of the time in this book. Do note that if you check my reading history, you should know that I don’t mind reading violence, gore, and grimdark SFF in heavy doses. They just need to be paced accordingly, and I—with sadness—can’t say that Brown nailed the pacing of his action sequences correctly this time.
“No god listens. There are only men. And what one does, another may undo. That is my only religion. That of the hand and the lever.”
Brown sacrificed many staple moments of the series such as fantastic character developments, clear and concise plot coherence, engaging banters, in exchange for the extreme bleakness. Plus, there’s a severe lack of appearances from my favorite characters of the series; characters for me to root for were truly lacking compared to the previous books. There were many instances where the POV of the new characters from Iron Gold felt like fillers put for the sake of adding pages count. What Brown tried to achieve with them became clearer at the end but even then I still believe that it didn’t require that many pages. Thankfully, there’s a new perspective character to follow here; her chapters were relatively small compared to the other four POV’s but her storyline was easily my favorite in this book. I would like to also add that plot device that revolves around dead characters being resurrected is a personal pet peeve of mine; sometimes they worked, most often they don’t. Let’s just say that the one that Brown pulled off here didn’t work for me.
“How many do not know you. How many will soon forget you. How many praise you today to offer contempt tomorrow. Permanence of fame, power, dominion of the individual, are illusions. All that will be measured, all that will last, is your mastery of yourself.”
I’ve rambled on about the things didn’t work for me, but rest assured that it’s not all bad. It’s time for me to talk about the incredible parts of the book that I loved. I have always loved Brown’s prose, that didn’t change here. If it weren’t because of his writing style, I probably would’ve DNFed this book somewhere in the middle. Although I have complained about the excessive bleak and violent nature of the book that made the pacing awkward, I won’t deny the fact that there were several devastating scenes that, in my opinion, were written so damn well. These characters suffered, a LOT. The horrible things they have to endure were insane, to say the least. And I can’t help but feel empathetic towards the key characters of the series. It’s also satisfying to see how much of the series has grown in terms of scope. Dark Age is massive in scope; the level of escalation in its scale is something that took me by surprise, and I’m thankful for it.
“You know I believe we all begin equal parts light and dark. I fear you think your strength lies in your darkness. But the measure of a man is not the fear he sows in his enemies. It is the hope he gives his friends.”
One last thing before I close this review, Brown successfully ended Dark Age with a bang. The closing sections of Part 3 and the entirety of Part 4 was absolutely brilliant; tremendously immersive, the twists and turns were written with magnificent clarity. These sections were a return to the greatness that I loved from Brown’s storytelling style. Action scenes full of palpable intensity and fury told in a cinematic fashion that made every brutal scene damn vivid. If I were to rate this book based on these parts, I would give it 5 stars rating in a heartbeat. It was truly brilliant. Plus, it also set up every single plotline for the grand conclusion to come in the next and final book.
“But for all this new civilization’s love affair with technology, they’ve been seduced by their own cleverness and fail to understand the simple truth: lying is not a science, it is an art. And art will always be a human language.”
Dark Age may not be as entertaining and enjoyable as the previous books, but it was certainly bleak; heart-shattering, and epic in scope. Many fans have started claiming that Dark Age is the best book in the series so far; unfortunately, I have to disagree with this notion. However, from the way the story ended here, the next book might truly end up becoming the best in the series for me. I bloodydamn look forward to seeing how it all concludes. Until then, I will endure. See you there, Helldivers.
You can order the book from: Book Depository (Free shipping)