Sunday, 27 March 2016

#CBR8 Book 31: "Morning Star" by Pierce Brown

Page count: 544 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Spoiler warning! This is the THIRD and final book of the trilogy and it's going to be impossible for me to review this without referring at least a little to stuff that happened in the previous two books. Hence, this is not a review you want to check out until you are well and truly caught up. Interested in the series? Go forth and start at the beginning, with Red Rising.

So readers will remember that when we last left Darrow at the end of Golden Son, he was not in a particularly good place. The shit, as they say, had hit the fan big time. The beginning of this book finds him at his lowest point yet, helpless and imprisoned by the Jackal, tortured in isolation, unsure of the fates of the rest of the Rising, with his mind slowly unravelling. It wouldn't be a very good ending to the series if Darrow was locked up the whole time, though, and I hope I'm not spoiling too much when I say he gets rescued (and what a rescue it is!).

Having been a deep cover agent for the rebellion for years, Darrow's cover is spectacularly blown. The Reaper and his allies no longer work in the shadows. It's time to launch all out war, but to take on the might of the Jackal, Octavia du Lune and the rest of the oppressive Golds in society, they are going to need some formidable soldiers, a whole lot of guile, cunning, sneakiness and a bloodydamn ton of luck.

While Brown really is a very kill-happy sort of an author, a lot of your favourite characters are still around, to love (and hate). Sevro and his Howlers were never going to give up on Darrow, no matter that the Jackal made it look like he had been publicly executed for treason. Mustang has an army of her own and Ragnar agrees to take Darrow to his people, to recruit the fierce warrior women of his barbarian tribe to the cause. Brown may have been criticised for his treatment of female characters in the previous books, but I really believe it's exaggerated, especially in this book. Darrow's single POV narration sadly means we don't get to see what goes on in the minds of Mustang, Victra, Orion (who is now a pirate queen), plus great new additions to the cast, Holiday and Sefi the Quiet (Ragnar's sister), but they are integral parts of the story. Add to that that some of the prime antagonists are powerful and formidable women, the Sovereign Octavia du Lune, her knights Aja and Moira, Lilath the Bonerider, the Jackal's terrifying second in command, even Antonia, Victra's duplicitous sister, and you frankly have a more impressive cast of women populating this book than male characters.

With each book, Brown has expanded the reach of the story and escalated the tension and action accordingly. In book 1, the focus was Darrow's first year at the Academy and him successfully infiltrating Gold society as the Sons of Ares' mole. Book 2 had him rising in the ranks, becoming a trusted lieutenant to the most powerful man on Mars, who coincidentally also killed his wife. He becomes a skilled commander of men and learns the further arts of manipulation, politics and intrigue. It also, sadly, has him discovered, unmasked and looking to crash and burn spectacularly, with the end of the book looking dire indeed for our hero. For those of you who read the books a while back, the author helpfully includes a brief synopsis of each of the previous books at the beginning of this one, plus a list of the major characters you need to keep track of, which even I, who read all three books with only a few weeks between each one, was incredibly grateful for.

Good narrative demands that the heroes face adversity and defeat before rising to triumph at the end. In this, the final book in the trilogy, all that Darrow and the Sons of Ares have worked for are coming to pass, but they are of course facing nearly impossible odds. In the first book, I thought the story lagged a bit in the middle of the whole live action Hunger Games on a massive scale section. In the second book, the battles were among my least favourite bits. In this book, naturally, there are quite a few epic space battles, described in excruciatingly detailed ways, with all the technology and different classes of war ships related to the reader. I don't know if it's because I'm a woman, or because I honestly don't care even a little bit about the finer details of technical specs, but these bits got boring fast for me.

I loved Darrow being reunited with Sevro and the other rebels and seeing how they were working to rally their troops. I liked some of their missions, when they didn't get too far into troupe movements and giant spaceships firing on one another. I loved seeing Ragnar's home and the culture he came from. The action is pretty relentless throughout and the reader rarely gets a chance to catch his or her breath before there's something new and audacious being attempted by the characters. The final third of the book especially had me literally shouting, out loud in my living room, at the plot developments, to the bemusement of my husband and the startled cats. It may be that when I go back and re-read, I am able to pick holes and criticise more, but I was completely emotionally engaged and rather exhausted when I finally got to the end (after a certain point, there was NO WAY I was going to put the book down until I got to the final page).

It was impossible for me not to compare this book with Winter, the final book in Marissa Meyer's Lunar Chronicles as I was reading. Both are dystopian sci-fi stories, where a band of ragtag rebels fight against an oppressive power ruling from the Moon. Sadly, Winter was a hot mess of a book, where instead of some characters not being allowed enough page time (like here), the huge cast of characters all had to have their significant moments and I just didn't believe in the way they eventually succeeded. Their rebellion also seemed to succeed without any cost, far too painlessly to ever be believable. Here the battles have actual costs to those involved, there are serious consequences and there are no simple answers given. Darrow, Mustang and their allies know that it's going to be nearly impossible to change the political system that has been in place for centuries. Changing the way that not only those in power, but those who have been enslaved, think, is a staggering task. The odds of them failing are high. Winning the war doesn't mean that their battles are over. It means that they have new challenges ahead of them.

This book is by no means perfect, but it is a very good (and to me, at least) satisfying ending to what has been a very impressive science fiction trilogy. I refuse to call these books Young Adult, I honestly think that a lot of the themes explored are too serious and sophisticated for most young readers to fully comprehend and entirely appreciate. There are so many references to classic literature and history here, which I don't think a lot of teenage readers will grasp.Then there's the graphic depictions of violence and oppression - nope, these are books that should be read by a mature audience. That's not to say that there aren't highly sophisticated, intelligent and mature teens out there, but they'll find these books anyway, because they don't need a YA label to discover new things to read.

I could have done with more political intrigue and fewer tech-heavy space battles, but I really liked this book and while all the books left me feeling exhausted after reading them (I seriously needed a break after each one), I will heartily recommend the books to a lot of my friends. Well done, Mr. Brown, I'm eager to see what you come up with next.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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