This review is a copy of the transcript of my video review on Light Bringer
Cover art illustrated by Jonathan Barlett
Light Bringer by Pierce Brown
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Series: Red Rising Saga (Book #6 of 7)
Genre: Sci-fi, Space Opera
Pages: 682 pages (Hardcover edition)
Publish date: 25th of July 2023 by Del Rey (US) & Hodder (UK)
Light Bringer is a bloodydamn near perfect space-opera masterpiece.
“For a friend with an understanding heart is worth no less than a brother. —Homer”
*Clang Clang Clang* Can you hear that?
That’s the sound of blades clashing announcing the arrival of Light Bringer as the biggest contender for the best book of 2023. Pierce Brown has done it. I have been a diehard fan of Pierce Brown’s Red Rising Saga for almost seven years. My admiration and passion for this series has pushed me to willingly read the series from the beginning again—despite how busy I am—in preparation for the arrival of Light Bringer, the sixth and penultimate volume in the series. Although I have unbridled fondness for the series, I am not afraid to admit my favorite book in the entire series prior to the existence of Light Bringer has always been one of the books in the first Red Rising trilogy. On my first read-through up to Dark Age, Golden Son was my favorite installment. On my second read, Morning Star received an escalation to my favorite instead. And I did have a blast in my second read of Iron Gold and Dark Age as well. Dark Age, in particular, received a significant reading experience upgrade for me. But now that I’ve read my most anticipated release of the year, Light Bringer, I can say with a shattered and mended heart that is filled with contentment and satisfaction, Light Bringer is my favorite book in the entire series so far. I have no idea how Pierce Brown can top this book in Red God. Light Bringer was just that sublime.
“The path is made of many stones that look all the same. When you trod upon evil, do not rest or look down because goodness is only a step away. The next may bring ruin, the next joy, but these stones are not your destination, they are but your journey to the path’s end.”
Light Bringer begins 8 months after the end of Dark Age, and I strongly believe this is a return to the best of the first Red Rising trilogy while employing the expansive military space opera aspects of Iron Gold and Dark Age. And more. I have mentioned this in my review of Dark Age. For context, Dark Age is one of the darkest books I’ve ever read. Brown went all out on the gore, darkness, violence, and bleakness of the circumstances and threats Darrow and his friends faced to mercilessly showcase the darkness and cruelty of war and violence. And Brown succeeded at this. There is nothing wrong with this direction. On my second read, I acknowledge this is a necessary and firm foothold needed to be established for Brown to bring the massive emotional reckonings and self-discovery in Light Bringer. But on that review of Dark Age, especially on my first read without a sign of Light Bringer in sight back then, I felt Brown did not implement his most outstanding gift as a storyteller. That is to mix the themes of hope, friendship, love, and light into the chaos of destruction the characters encounter. This blend of chemistry made the first trilogy shine so brightly in many reader’s hearts. Fortunately, as I said earlier, Brown brought that back in Light Bringer multiply without losing the epic scope he meticulously prepared in Iron Gold and Dark Age. As Brown himself said. Light Bringer is a book about journeying through darkness toward light, toward home. It is a book about war, loss, and hope, but most of all, it is a book about friendship and how the bonds we make with those we love are stronger than duty, blood, or chains. And Brown is firing on all cylinders here. Lux ex Tenebris. Light comes after darkness.
“I think of the eighth understanding. We achieve perfection first by acknowledging our failures. We increase understanding first by recognizing our ignorance.”
Does it mean Light Bringer is less dark or intense compared to Dark Age? No. I will argue the intensity has been heightened even further. There were many moments in the book where I felt like my heart was leaping out of my throat. Part 1 out of 4 of the novel is relatively safe in tension and heartbreak. But remember, we are in the sixth book of seven in Red Rising Saga. My emotional investment (and I think the same notion is felt by other Howlers) toward the characters is real. Darrow and the surviving characters from the first trilogy are not simply fictional characters. Our affection and worries for them are genuine. A slight damage to them could mean a critical emotional hit for us readers. As we learn from the previous books in Red Rising Saga and many other science fiction and fantasy series, being a paragon of honor and virtue doesn’t immortalize or guarantee peace. War portends death, hatred, and vengeance. To form a unity with an armor of love or to be indivisible and invincible could be tougher than waging vengeance. Especially when Darrow and the characters live in a dehumanized world ruled by a ruthless hierarchy where the rule of might make right is absolute. This is, among many other reasons, why Light Bringer is so bloodydamn brilliant. The character’s work, characterizations, and development were masterfully written. My mind and heart swirled with fear, anxiety, love, happiness, and sorrow throughout every page. The sense of care I have for the main characters felt too much, and as I saw them constantly endure heavy adversities, it felt like I spiritually persisted with them, too.
“If we demand restitution for all the evils that have been done to us, there will be no end to this war. It will consume us and the people we claim to lead. The future is more important than our wounds… The purpose of war must not be vengeance. It cannot be to kill your enemies until none are left. That is barbarism. That’s how Earth and its multitude of nations strangled itself… The purpose of war must be to find the road back to peace.”
I’ve read more than 600 novels since I read the first Red Rising trilogy for the first time. And the fact that I still regard the brotherhood in Red Rising Saga to be one of—if not—the best portrayal of brotherhood in fiction I’ve ever read is a testament to Brown’s complex, mature, and layered plotting and character motivations. I did mention this at the beginning of this review. Light Bringer brings the series back to its core. In Iron Gold and Dark Age, Darrow is mostly separated from the main characters from the first trilogy. It is why I think there is a bit of a more mixed reception toward both Iron Gold and Dark Age. Even if overall, they were still super positive. But this separation does bring worthy and rewarding payoffs in Light Bringer. I’m trying to not mention the character’s name here to make this review as spoiler-free as possible, but the theme of brotherhood exhibited in Light Bringer was so bloodydamn good. I would consider myself blessed to be able to read more books with this level of believable friendship and brotherhood. With more responsibilities and the march of time, their friendships aren’t as relatively simple as they were before in the first trilogy when they had fewer designated main missions and priorities. The brotherhood between Darrow and his brothers has obstructions, and they are bravely fought for, understood, and nurtured.
“So what you’re saying is, without your friends , you’d be slagged and the Rising would be ashes?… Welcome to the club, asshole. Where do you think I’d be without you? Without our friends? Dead in a ravine, that’s where. We hold each other up. We always have. That’s not weakness. That’s the only strength we’ve got. More than anyone, you’ve been there for me. You’ve been my engine for half a life. My turn.”
Red Rising Saga is still my number 1 favorite sci-fi series. It never feels like work to do a second read of the series from the beginning, and honestly speaking, I am glad I did that before reading Light Bringer. One of my favorite things about Light Bringer is how Pierce Brown totally made sure that crucial and pivotal events from each previous book in the series do matter. A lot. They were established and reflected, and they exponentially enhanced the emotional value I have with the series. When you analyze the storyline and conflicts in Iron Gold up to Light Bringer, especially Light Bringer, you will see many of them are the downfall and results of Darrow’s actions in the first trilogy. And I am not only talking about the endgame in Morning Star, but to mention one, what Darrow decided to do in the Battle of Ilium in Morning Star has a lot of devastating repercussions that can still be felt in Light Bringer. I am so pleased with this storytelling decision. I also think more authors and storytellers should include snippets of recollections or flashbacks like Brown did here. We, readers, have gone through the series from the beginning. In sequels or long series, characters’ momentary recollections of the past and their journey can magnificently increase my emotional attachment to the characters and their struggle.
“In the cold prison of our minds, we are alone with our self-hatred, our doubts, and guilt… A friend may reach through the bars and hold our hand, but they cannot open the door for us. Only the prisoner has the key. All I can do is remind him we’re waiting for him when he gets out.”
As a result, for the first time in the series, after all the development, I can now say Darrow has become one of my top favorite main characters. This is new to me. Sevro has always been my favorite character in Red Rising Saga. But Darrow is flawed, and his character’s arc and development throughout the series are phenomenal. In Light Bringer, I love reading how Darrow took a step back to observe the unforgettable sins of his past. The weight of his guilt was never neglected, and he took action upon them. It is all so incredible. Brown’s multiple first-person narration was compelling and engaging, as always. There were many passages I highlighted because they resonated a lot with me. Although Darrow and Lysander’s POV chapters have the most spotlights in Light Bringer, the book or series never felt it was exclusively about them. It is about them, their loved ones, their beliefs, and the ruthless hierarchy of their world. And speaking of Lysander, let me say this… He is one of the most despicable and self-righteous characters I’ve read in speculative fiction. It takes something special to make me want to put my hand inside the pages of a book to strangle a character, and Lysander has achieved this in Light Bringer. Multiple times.
“Did Silenius and Akari love war? Did they use war to line their own purses, to vent their rage against the ungrateful masses? Or did they wage war to sculpt the chaos natural in humanity into a future of order and prosperity? Our sacred ancestors knew what we have forgotten: that peace, not war, is our sacred calling. That we were to lead by our example, not to be led by our greed, our hunger for power. I look around, and I am humbled by your acts of valor and sacrifice, but we are no longer a people united by our sacrifice or by our convictions. We are united only in our propensity for self-interest, infighting, and greed.
Finally, let’s talk about action scenes. I consider The Battle of Ilium in Morning Star one of the greatest space-opera warfare sequences I’ve ever read. And, of course, Light Bringer won’t reach the critical acclaim it has without the prominent clash of conflicts evident throughout the series. Pierce Brown brought that back again. He features not only one but TWO big battle sequences. And they were absolutely breathtaking. The brutality in The Battle of Phobos was rampant and terrifying. The tone was filled with grim menace, dread, and disorder. And then there’s more… *Clang Clang Clang*. You might have seen those who read Light Bringers mention: “Clang. Clang. Clang.” This is the sound of flashing blades producing a superbly thrilling iconic duel that will be discussed by the Howlers for many years to come. Ashvar is hands down the finest duel scene in the entire series. It was pure energy crystallized by Brown’s narrative. I am in awe. I don’t know how Brown did it. The frantic bedlam and bloodshed he conjures never fails to transport me into his books easily. The free movement in the battle-flow of the breath of stone was incredibly mesmerizing to me. My pulse pounded. I forgot I was reading a book. It was like a vortex of vivid wind had opened its invitation for readers to fly together with the howling lunatics following godkillers in a hunt. I can’t say more than this. If you haven’t read Light Bringer, you will know when you get there. The entire sequence was extremely well-written; I swear any author would be gratified to pen a sequence of chapters reaching that superlative quality. Light Bringer is epic. Also, the three gorgeous maps on the front pages of Light Bringer, illustrated by Joel Daniel Phillips, helped realize the ambitious scope of Brown’s vision in Red Rising Saga.
“So why are we fading? Because we don’t wanna be here. We wanna be on the other side of this shit. We’re waiting to live. But this is it. This is our life until we change it. That’s all right. Like Darrow said, it’s a blessing. It is our privilege to fight. So let’s stop eating ourselves, chewing on each other’s legs. It’s stupid. It’s endless. We got more to do.”
Whether it’s the cover art or the content, Light Bringer is the crowning glory of Red Rising Saga. This is an example of a marvelous book that reminds me why I love reading. The resonating themes of camaraderie, family, brotherhood, and hope were precisely combined with the grimness of the fine-tuned actions, sacrifice, and darkness. Light Bringer contains some of the most emotional scenes in the series so far, and believe me, it means a great deal. Especially when you put how many hearts have been broken and repaired by the events in the series into the equation. Light Bringer is the best penultimate book I’ve ever read out of any series. By bringing Light Bringer into existence, Brown has everlastingly carved his name into the archives of science fiction history as one of the greatest sci-fi authors of all time. Only one book remains. It will be bittersweet to read the series to its completion. And I am not sure how Brown can exceed Light Bringer in Red God. But if anyone can, it would be Howler One. Per Aspera ad Astra.
“I’m not really blessed at keeping friends. But you are. I truly respect that. I know how special your friends are to you, how protective you are of them. And it means…quite a bit to me that you’ve invited me into your pack and made me feel welcome. No…it means everything, really. Without this, without your friends, I’m very much alone. You’ve put a lot of faith in me. Faith that I don’t think I’ve always deserved. I just want to say…thank you, Darrow.”
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