This review is a copy of the transcript of my video review on Morning Star and Red Rising Trilogy.
Morning Star by Pierce Brown
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Series: Red Rising Saga (Book #3 of 7)
Genre: Fantasy, High Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, Classic Fantasy
Pages: 518 pages (Paperback Edition)
Word Count: 173,000 words
Published: 9th February 2016 by Del Rey (US) & 11th February 2016 by Hodder (UK)
Morning Star is an absolutely prime conclusion to the first trilogy in Red Rising Saga, my favorite sci-fi series of all time to date.
“If this is the end, I will rage toward it.”
I don’t usually create an updated review on a reread. Even after rereading a book, with the exception of grammatical fixes, I tend to leave my first review of a specific book untouched. This way, on the reread, I can look back and observe my past reaction and thoughts on the first time I read that book, then I can compare them. But I can’t do that for this book. It would be an injustice. Morning Star deserves a rare exception. I first read Morning Star and the entirety of the first trilogy in Red Rising Saga within nine days, on January 2017. That was more than six years ago. Sleeping hours were sacrificed back then, as it was sacrificed again on my second read, and it was all bloodydamn worth it. On my first dive, I was adamant about Golden Son as the reigning champion of the entire series, and this notion lives even after I read Iron Gold and Dark Age. But there is a change in the equation now. On this second dive into the story of Darrow and the individuals surrounding him, I am pleasantly surprised to say Morning Star is now my favorite volume in the entire Red Rising Saga series so far, up to Dark Age. If you love science fiction or space opera series, I urge you to read Red Rising Saga by Pierce Brown.
“If your heart beats like a drum, and your legs a little wet, it’s because the Reaper’s come to collect a little debt.”
The plot in Morning Star begins a year after the traumatizing end of Golden Son. Brown weaved an intensely unpredictable storyline through his empathizing characters, devastating betrayals, deadly political machinations, and space opera bloodbath. However, this does not mean the narrative was all battles and actions like in Golden Son. There were solemn and slower moments to let the events and hardships the characters went through settle in. I remember the first time I read Morning Star, I was slightly disappointed with the relatively slower pacing of the novel. I mentioned I preferred the non-stop exhilaration of Golden Son. I will have to retract the statement. Binge-reading the first three books in Red Rising Saga might have led me to feel impatient to turn the page faster because I wanted to know what happened next, and I cannot deny I failed to appreciate the deep and mature themes of the series during my younger state six years ago. And now, I have absorbed these emotional and resonating themes like a sponge on my second read.
“I thought being a man was having control. Being the master and commander of your own destiny. How could any boy know that freedom is lost the moment you become a man. Things start to count. To press in. Constricting slowly, inevitably, creating a cage of inconveniences and duties and deadlines and failed plans and lost friends.”
We are humans, and we are, in a way and on some level, broken with rage, regret, and pain. The first trilogy in Red Rising Saga is supplied with war, bloodshed, sorrow, and loss. But it never plunged into becoming a grimdark sci-fi series. Brown made it clear that some of the most integral main themes of the trilogy are to gain the determination to fight what you can’t control. To overcome oppression but never lose sight of the most precious aspects of your life. Family, legacy, loyalty, redemption, friendship, and love. These are not options. These are necessities. A driving force and strength to replenish the empty space in our hearts. Broken bonds can be mended. Mistakes can be redeemed. There isn’t a better way for me to reinforce this aspect than to let you hear what Brown said about this subject.
“Whatever you’re told, being an adult doesn’t mean you have control. No matter the power you have, the money you make, the age you become, we all feel a little bit at the mercy of something else — the government, banks, chance, illness, our bosses etc. That’s what Darrow is dealing with in RED RISING, the fact that any control he thinks he has over his own life is a mirage. But he does not despair. Instead he decides to break the chains and live for more. He sets out to create his own future.
The fact is, we don’t have complete control over our lives. Never have, never will. That’s ok. The point is, rather, to take control over the parts of our life that we can and live those parts in precisely the way we want. That is living for more and that is what Darrow is fighting for.”
And personally speaking, this is why I feel I can easily connect with Darrow’s story and struggle in the trilogy. Another theme that has been there since the first book is friendship, and its importance is made extravagantly evident in Morning Star. It is the core of the series.
“A man thinks he can fly, but he is afraid to jump. A poor friend pushes him from behind… A good friend jumps with.”
Picture: Morning Star by Tommy Arnold
Darrow was 16 years old at the beginning of Red Rising, and he is now 23 years old in Morning Star. A LOT has happened since the Golds came to bring him war. And Darrow and many characters in the series have received substantial character development and went through life-changing events. Darrow, Sevro, and Ragnar remain my favorite characters in the series. Especially Darrow and Sevro. I found their unbending friendship an utter delight to read. I have read more than 600 books since the first time I read Morning Star, and on this revisit, I realized extensively just how extremely well-written their friendship was. Darrow and Sevro are my favorite bromance/duo in speculative fiction. At the very least, it is up there with Fitz and The Fool from The Realm of the Elderlings by Robin Hobb, Royce and Hadrian from The Riyria books by Michael J. Sullivan, or Locke and Jean from The Gentleman Bastards by Scott Lynch. It is that good. And my vast investment in these characters, plus the addition of Brown’s merciless plotting, allows me to seamlessly enter the pages of the novels and experience the terror of adversity the characters endured. Reader’s emotions and investment are Brown’s toys, and playing around with them is Brown’s spectacular expertise.
“Man is no island. We need those who love us. We need those who hate us. We need others to tether us to life, to give us a reason to live, to feel.”
For the superbly written protagonists and antagonists, their journey finds closure here. Some will live; some will die. And that, in my opinion, is a good thing to have in stories. No matter how much I love a character, I need to feel a sense of urgency in what they are fighting for. I need to know they’re not protected by the “author’s immortality barrier,” as many stories did. I need to feel that what they’re fighting for could truly cost their lives, and their actions will always have repercussions. Especially in a series like Red Rising Saga that deals with war, vengeance, and destruction resulting in thousands of casualties.
“Shit escalates” –Sevro au Barca
Not all SFF books need to have the authors killing off their characters, but in the hundreds of books I have read since I read Morning Star, it is shocking how few authors are willing to kill off their characters. It’s war! One of the most horrific acts of violence. The kindness and courage of a character shouldn’t mean they’re safe from danger and death. If a favorite character of mine dies for a good cause, and I feel sad or angry about it, that’s bloodydamn good. It means the author has succeeded in making me emotionally invested in the characters, and it also launched the story toward an unpredictable path that enhances the tension and stakes of the narrative. Some of my favorite authors of all time do this. And I am confident in including Pierce Brown in the list. He is not afraid to kill off his characters when necessary, and I personally assess that a strength every storyteller should possess. This is not exclusive to books but to all forms of storytelling mediums.
“You and I keep looking for light in the darkness, expecting it to appear. But it already has… We’re it, boyo. Broken and cracked and stupid as we are, we’re the light, and we’re spreading.”
Characterizations and character development were never neglected, and in the meantime, Brown’s intricate world-building and complexity improved consistently with each book in the series. New planets, cultures, rules of hierarchy, and scientific devices/weapons are established and explored in every volume. And the action scenes seem to get better and better in accordance with the overall quality of each book in the first trilogy. Brown excels at writing gripping action sequences; he is a bloodydamn world-class talent. Morning Star may not be as jam-packed with actions and battles like Golden Son, but still, every harrowing mission and battle scene matters. The final 150 pages in Morning Star were space opera warfare at its best. Right from the unquestionably epic 50 pages long Battle of Ilium, Brown’s storytelling explodes with creativity and tension-packed space opera battle. The devastations and moments of ingenuity imbued into this battle were incredible. The drill of the Helldiver brought hell to the infinite landscape of space. And it doesn’t stop there. The hellish heartbreaks, glory, and twists and turns inflicted by the clash of wolf’s howl versus lion’s roar persists until the end of the novel. Without spoilers, the climax sequence is instilled with texts to conjure an electrifying adrenaline charge. The terrible calamity, burning wrath, and concluding chapters made me internally scream and want to fist-pump the air. Multiple times. Who will be the conqueror? Which justice will prevail? Let me do you a favor; read it and find out for yourself. But when the silence is loud, and you are left staring at a void in your vision, you will know the deed of a brilliant story has been accomplished.
“I’m a bloodydamn 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.”
Before I end this review, I should mention that my passion for this series is possible because Brown’s prose clicks with me on every level. Insanely readable, tense, and yet filled with many beautiful passages to highlight. Action scenes were breathtaking, and moments of magnificence were written to last. As it is now proven on my reread experience. Brown’s prose covered a range of emotions effectively. Poignant, poetic, dark, wrathful, savage, and yet still sprinkled with love, humor, hope, and happiness. As I said earlier, although most of Morning Star and trilogy undoubtedly brims with pulse-pounding scenes, the scenes depicting love, family, contentment, understanding, and friendship were easily crystallized into permanence. This is what Pierce Brown does best with his storytelling skill. It’s not all brutal violence and splattering crimson on the ground and space. Brown equally juggles life and death, hope and despair, love and hatred, intensity and serenity. Impeccable, vivid, and relatable prose written with an extraordinarily sharp edge that cuts at the reader’s heart, it is safe to express Red Rising Saga fully satisfied my desire for a mind-blowing space opera series when I read it for the first time, and it continues to do so on my reread.
“Everything is cracked, everything is stained except the fragile moments that hang crystalline in time and make life worth living.”
This is why I try to reread some of my favorite books frequently. The result can be irreplaceably rewarding. I loved Morning Star on my first read. On reread, I feel resolute in declaring Morning Star as an astonishing space opera magnificence. Incredibly climactic, fulfilling, and loaded with relentlessly thrilling adrenaline rush and immense emotional impact, it is said that light shines brightest in the darkness, and I tell you to allow the heart and light amidst the rollercoaster of mayhem in Red Rising Saga bring you that light. Containing everything I love in stories, Morning Star is the best sci-fi novel (along with Dark Forest by Cixin Liu) I have ever read so far. With the possibility for it to be topped by Iron Gold or Dark Age on reread, or maybe the upcoming Light Bringer or Red God. Yes, my goodman. If you are here for the first time, although this absolutely marvelous novel concluded the first trilogy in Red Rising Saga, it is not the end yet. After all, the main reason I’m rereading the series in the first place is in preparation for the release of Light Bringer. And I’m glad I enforced this decision. Morning Star taught me to love. It taught me bravery. It taught me loyalty. It taught me endurance. Red Rising Saga inspired me to live for more.
Per Aspera ad Astra, Howlers.
“What is pride without honor? What is honor without truth? Honor is not what you say. It is not what you read… Honor is what you do.”
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