Dark Age by Pierce Brown: The blood-dimmed tide is loosed… / The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.

Dark AgeDark Age

by Pierce Brown
Series: Red Rising, #5

Hardcover, 800 pg.
Del Rey Books, 2019

Read: August 9 – 16, 2019

From a distance, death seems the end of a story. But when you are near, when you can smell the burning skin, see the entrails, you see death for what it is. A traumatic cauterization of a life thread. No purpose. No conclusion. Just snip.

I knew war was dreadful, but I did not expect to fear it.

How can anyone not, when death is just a blind giant with scissors?

This will not end well

Lysander au Lune has a few thoughts along those lines pages after falling in an Iron Rain on Mercury, but this was one of the more striking examples. For a “bad guy,” he’s awfully easy to identify with. He’s trying to establish an alliance between the remnants of the Society and the Outer Planets to crush the Rising once and for all, and so has to curry favor with Atalantia by joining in the counter-attack on Mercury. This attack does not go well for anyone—both armies and the civilian population on Mercury took on incalculable losses, provoking a lot of thoughts like this on both sides, I’d imagine. And that’s just how this novel starts

It’s been almost a week since I finished Dark Age and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it—plot, characters, and ramifications of the events of the novel—and I don’t think I will anytime soon. I’ve joked (online and IRL) that I’ve used “brutal” in every post I’ve written about this series (at least once) and I was going to have to get a new thesaurus to help me come up with alternatives before I wrote this—not just so I’d add a little variety to the posts, but primarily because it just doesn’t seem to be descriptive enough about what happens here.

Iron Gold shows us what can go wrong as a society throws off the shackles of tyranny, but is still learning how to act with a replacement for that system. And it wasn’t pretty. Dark Age is all about what happened right after Iron Gold how does Darrow follow-up his dramatic act on Mercury? How do the remnants of the Society react to that? Can Virginia maintain control of the government (and should she?), and what’s going on with the kidnapped children and the kidnappers?

None of the answers to those questions are easy, and it’s hard to like any of the answers you might find. But man, what a book. Brown surprised me time after time after time and I have no idea what to expect for the next volume. You find yourself hoping that Character X will survive whatever dire situation they’re in, but you almost hope they fall now, because whatever is coming up next for them is going to be worse, much worse.

For a change, this isn’t primarily Darrow’s story. But even as I say that I want to object. The opening chapters are full of him, but after the first 100 pages or so (I’m estimating because I had to take it back to the Library already), other characters—primarily on the Moon and Mars—get the majority of the space. At the same time, there’s not one page—not one paragraph, really— that isn’t in the shadow of Darrow. His acts, his movement, his intentions, his affects on various individuals and/or society at large. Even if the Red Rising is put down and the demokracy is defeated, it will be generations before Darrow’s impact is forgotten. So, yes, he’s sidelined for most of this novel, but ultimately, it’s still all about Darrow.

I can’t take the time to talk about everything that I want to, but if anyone’s going to defeat Darrow/the Rising, I wouldn’t mind if it was Lysander. Sadly, Lysander wouldn’t be alone, and his allies aren’t as honorable or noble (actual nobility, not hereditary titles) as he is—so I hope he goes down in flames.

Yes, I didn’t think Iron Gold was necessary—or as good as the initial trilogy (while I did enjoy it)—but as it paved the way for Dark Age (and whatever comes next) I’m not complaining. This was probably the best thing since Red Rising (in many ways, probably superior), and I’m once again invested in this series.

Brown’s writing has never been better—this is his biggest book to date in terms of size and scope. Yes, it’s an investment of time, but not one that’s impossible to surmount (and is totally worth it). It’s a longer book, with more characters, more perspectives and more potential to surprise the reader (both in this book and what comes next). It’s like he took Yeat’s “The Second Coming” and said, I wonder what verse 1 would look like in the Red Rising Universe?

I can’t do justice to this book, I just can’t. There’s not an ongoing SF series that I can recommend as highly as this, and whatever flaws there might be are dwarfed by the strengths to the extent that I can’t even enumerate them. If your interest post-Morning Star has waned, I encourage you to give this a shot. If you’ve never tried this series, do not jump on board here. Go back to Red Rising, and after you’ve endured (and loved) the emotional battering that follows, you’ll see what I’m talking about.

“What does Mars mean to you, Nakamura?” I ask.

The Terran hesitates. “Hope. And you, my liege?”

“War.”

Virginia says a lot in that last syllable (even ignoring the pun). It sounds ominous there, and I think it tells us everything we need to know about the rest of this series.

—–

5 Stars
2019 Library Love Challenge

Reposting Just ‘Cuz: Golden Son by Pierce Brown

Here we are with the second of today’s Pierce Brown reposts. Even if Golden Son isn’t really volume 2 of a trilogy anymore, everything else I said about it still stands. There are few writers who can jerk me around like Brown can—he plays with emotions and expectations like Yo-Yo Ma on a cello. And I wish he’d lighten up on his readers, but I don’t expect that he will anytime soon (and I really don’t want him to, it just feels like it).

Golden SonGolden Son

by Pierce Brown
Series: Red Rising, #2

Hardcover, 442 pg.
Del Ray, 2015
Read: February 3 – 4, 2015

I glimpse Gray police standing over arrested Brown vandals who covered an apartment complex with the image of a hanging girl. My wife. Ten stories tall, hair burning, rendered in digital paint. My chest constricts as we pass, cracking the walls I’ve built around her memory. I’ve seen her hanged a thousand times now as her martyrdom spreads across the worlds, city by city. Yet each time, it strikes me like a physical blow, nerve endings shivering in my chest, heart beating fast, neck tight just under the jaw. How cruel a life, that the sight of my dead wife means hope.

As you start this book you’re thinking, this is going to be Red Rising continued — Darrow’s got a good steam and he’s going to continue to rise and learn. And then, you finish the first chapter and see how horribly wrong you were.

The important thing to remember while reading Golden Son: this is the 2nd volume in a trilogy. What does that mean about the book as a whole, especially the ending? Think: The Empire Strikes Back, Kinslayer, Catching Fire, The Deaths of Tao, The Two Towers, and so on. It’s going to get dark, it’s going to be messy, things are going to look bad for Darrow and his group.

Time and time again, Brown suckered me with this book. I got comfortable, got in a groove with the narrative, figured he’s about to zig and he’d zag. 30-50 pages later, we’d do the same thing again . . . and again. Up to, and including the final zig when I was sure he was about to zag. The number of times that a narrative gut punch was delivered as Brown was pulling the rug out from underneath you was enough to make you feel like you were one of Darrow’s crew on a bad day.

I read this at what turned out to be a busy time for me, so I couldn’t get to blogging about it then — I don’t remember many of the details (pretty sure the good ones are spoilery anyway), so I can’t get too specific about things. But I do remember the experience of reading it. This was just a brutal read — and each time Brown sent me reeling, I wanted more.

This was the second book in 2015 that I gave 5 Stars to. Since then I’ve read better books — some of which I’ve rated lower — but the way this book grabbed me, the way it made me feel while reading it? It earned the 5 Star then and still deserves it now.

I can’t wait for the conclusion, Morning Star this coming February.

—–

5 Stars

Reposting Just ‘Cuz: Red Rising by Pierce Brown

Time got away from me this past weekend—and not just because I wrote one post that turned about about 3x as long as I’d figured (which is fine, I had a lot of fun with my family, just didn’t write as much as I wanted to). That’s just a nice way of saying that I couldn’t shut up (you’ll see in a couple of hours). But I wanted to get something else up today, and since I’m knee-deep in Brown’s Dark Age at the moment, I figured I’d repost what I wrote about the first two books in the series. Glancing over it, I agree with everything I said, but kept shaking my head like Leslie talking to Ann: “You are a beautiful, naïve, sophisticated newborn baby.” This was one of my Top Reads of 2014 and the series is one of my most beloved. I urge you to jump on this runaway train if you haven’t yet.

Red Rising (Red Rising Trilogy, #1)Red Rising

by Pierce Brown
Series: Red Rising, #1

Hardcover, 382 pg.
Del Rey, 2014
Read: Feb 26 – Mar 6, 2014

I’m having a hard time deciding what to say about this one. To really talk about it would require me spoiling every plot point that I loved (most of which I didn’t see coming). So I won’t. I’ll just say that I really, really dug this book.

I don’t want to just compare this to The Hunger Games, as much as reviews/blurbs/etc. make a guy want to. There are some surface-level similarities, yeah. And you could make the case (as I did when just starting the book) that Brown’s Mars was just the place for people who thought Collins’ Panem was a bit easy. In fact several parts of this feel like The Hunger Games dialed up to 11. The working/living conditions for Darrow and his family are more severe, what Darrow has done to him to prepare him for what’s to come makes what Cinna et al. do to Katniss look like child dress-up, Darrow plays a deadly game on a larger scale than Katniss, and so on. But Darrow’s motivation is different than Katniss’ — she’s trying to survive, he’s trying to do far more (and much of the time, survival’s pretty low on his list) — the stakes he’s playing for are greater, and he will go to lengths that Ms. Everdeen doesn’t have to.

There are a few moments when things seem too slow, or meandering, or even redundant — but each time, I was wrong, and Brown made it all pay off. Visceral was the word that kept coming back to me as I read the book. I had almost visceral reactions to some of the horrors depicted, I could feel the grime and muck (literal and metaphorical) that Darrow crawled around in.

This shows every indication of leading to something epic in the next volume, leaving Mars behind and moving to other planets and/or the space between. As well as seeing if Darrow can retain his self and purpose — and how far will he be willing to go to carry it out.

There is a classic SF reference in Part IV that made me giggle with delight (in the middle of a pretty grim part of a fairly grim book, so I appreciated the placement). I won’t spoil it, but Pierce Brown has bought a lot of loyalty from me with two simple words.

Go grab this one.

—–

5 Stars

Library Haul 8/3/19, My Eyes are Bigger than My Stomach

Sometimes it really hurts when most of your Library Hold list becomes available at the same time.

Case in point:

That’s my library haul for today. 1,654 pages of reading ahead of me—1,410 pages of which are due back on 8/17. Sure, that’s a very doable number, but at least a thousand of those pages are going to be slow work. Oh, and there’s the new Robert Crais book that should be arriving in my mailbox Tuesday (and you know I can’t let that sit around unread).

Honestly, it’s not that big of a problem (and a great problem to have!), but man…I look at that stack and just feel tired. Anyone else ever do this to themselves?

Iron Gold by Pierce Brown

Iron GoldIron Gold

by Pierce Brown
Series: Red Rising, #4

Hardcover, 600 pg.
Del Rey Books, 2018

Read: February 5 – 13, 2018

. . . We didn’t prepare for this.”

“How do you prepare for a kick in the balls?” I say. “You don’t. You suck it up.”

“That supposed to inspire me?. . .

Darrow’s words about the mission he and the Howlers are ill-prepared for also apply to readers of Pierce Brown books. At some point, you have to suck it up and keep moving. I typically considered Brown’s writing to be full of gut-punches, but Darrow’s anatomical metaphor applies, too. Yeah, we love the books, and Brown makes sure the experience is almost as harrowing for the readers as it is for the characters.

After President Snow dies, after Tris finishes with the Factions, after The Matrix reboots, after The Emperor Dies and the teddy bears sing, “Yub nub, eee chop yub nub,” what happens? (well, thanks to J. J. Abrams, we have an idea about that last one) Iron Gold lets us see what happens 10 years after the events of Morning Star.

The Republic is still at war, trying to finish off the remnants of the old order — the Senate isn’t rubber stamping Darrow’s requests and that is proving problematic. The people are tired of the bloodshed and want the focus to move to strengthening the fledgling government. Driving Darrow to a last-ditch and dramatic gesture. The lives of the Reds on Mars is technically better, they’re technically free, but things aren’t much better — in fact, they may be less safe. Criminals on Lune are doing well, but those who served during the War are still trying to deal with the trauma they survived. Meanwhile, on the far end of the solar system, some exiles from Lune are looking to regain some prominence. Brown jumps around from story to story, between various perspectives, surveying the wreckage of the Society and the birth of the Republic.

Each character is as well-drawn, and fully developed, as sympathetic as those who came before in the series — even those who are critical of Darrow/the Republic (if not downright opposed to it). This is a more complicated world than the one we last saw. I’m going to keep things pretty vague and not go further than this, because half of the joy of this book is in the exploration.

Jumping from perspective to perspective, between storylines that have almost nothing to do with each other make for a lesser novel than the previous books in the series. When I was following a character — their story was gripping, I was interested and invested — but the instant the perspective shifted? It was all about the new story/perspective and I pretty much forgot about the previous. Darrow’s story was the exception, but I attribute that to my long-standing connection to Darrow, Sevro and the rest. I loved the conclusion of Darrow’s story — because of what it means for Darrow and the rest, and what it means for the next book in the series (saga?).

I’m glad we got this look at the aftermath of the Rising — if we were going to get anything at all — it seems right for things to be this way. I wasn’t as invested in this novel as I was in the previous ones, but I’m just as invested in this world. I hope the next one will grab me better, but until then I wait on tenterhooks and with hope that Darrow and the rest will deliver the goods. This is not the place to jump on the series — go back toe Red Rising and start from the beginning, it’s worth it. For those who’ve been with man from his harrowing beginning through his even more harrowing and devastating triumphs, this is a must read.

—–

4 Stars

2018 Library Love Challenge

The Best Novels I Read in 2016

Yeah, I should’ve done this earlier, but I just needed a break from 2016 for a couple of days. Most people do this in mid-December or so, but a few years ago (before this blog), the best novel I read that year was also the last. Ever since then, I just can’t pull the trigger until January 1.

I truly enjoyed all but a couple of books this year (at least a little bit), but narrowing the list down to those in this post was a little easier than I expected (‘tho there’s a couple of books I do feel bad about ignoring). I stand by my initial ratings, there are some in the 5-Star group that aren’t as good as some of the 4 and 4½ books, although for whatever reason, I ranked them higher (entertainment value, sentimental value…liked the ending better…etc.). Anyway, I came up with a list I think I can live with.

(in alphabetical order by author)

Morning StarMorning Star

by Pierce Brown
My original post
I was a little surprised (but not really) today to see that every book in the trilogy made my year-end Best-Of list — so it makes sense that this one occupies a space. But it’s more than that, this book was an exciting emotional wringer that ended the trilogy in a perfect way. I can’t recommend this one enough (but only for those who’ve read the first two). When I was informed a month ago that there was going to be a follow-up series? I let out a whoop, thankfully none of my family noticed, so I don’t have to feel too silly.
5 Stars

A Star-Reckoner's LotA Star-Reckoner’s Lot

by Darrell Drake
My original post
I’m afraid if I start talking about this one that I’ll spill a few hundred words. Let me just slightly modify something I already wrote and spare us all the effort (that could be better spent actually reading these books). I’m afraid I’ll overuse the word imaginative if I tried to describe what Drake has done here in the depth I want to in this book about pre-Islamic Iran. You haven’t read a fantasy novel like this one before — almost certainly, anyway — but you should.
4 1/2 Stars

Blood of the EarthBlood of the Earth

by Faith Hunter
My original post
This probably should be a dual entry with Blood of the Earth and Curse on the Land, but that felt like cheating. Between the two, I thought that this was a slightly better work, so it got the spot. While remaining true to the Jane Yellowrock world that this springs from, Hunter has created a fantastic character, new type of magic, and basis of a series. I love these characters already (well, except for those I wasn’t crazy about previously) and can’t wait for a return trip.
4 1/2 Stars

BurnedBurned

by Benedict Jacka
My original post
I’m just going to quote myself here: I’ve seen people call this the Changes of the Alex Verus series — and it absolutely is. I’d also call it the Staked in terms with the protagonists coming to grips with the effects that his being in the lives of his nearest and dearest has on their life, and what that means for his future involvement with them. Which is not to say that Jacka’s latest feels anything like Butcher’s or Hearne’s books — it feels like Verus just turned up half a notch. It’s just such a great read — it grabs you on page 2 and drags you along wherever it wants to take you right up until the “He is not actually doing this” moment — which are followed by a couple more of them.
5 Stars

Fate BallFate Ball

by Adam W. Jones
My original post
Since the Spring when I read this, I periodically reminded myself to keep this in mind for my Top 10, I was that afraid I’d forget this quiet book. It’s not a perfect novel, there are real problems with it — but it was really effective. I fell for Ava, just the way Able did — not as hard (and only in a way that my wife wouldn’t mind) — but just as truly. This one worked about as well as any author could hope one would.
4 1/2 Stars

All Our Wrong TodaysAll Our Wrong Todays

by Elan Mastai
My original post
My all-time favorite time-travel novel, just a fun read, too. I will over-hype this one if I’m not careful. So, so good.
5 Stars

The Summer that Melted EverythingThe Summer that Melted Everything

by Tiffany McDaniel
My original post
I’m not sure what I can say about this book that others haven’t — this trip into a magical realism version of the 1980’s Mid-West will get you on every level — it’s entertaining, it’s thought-provoking, the language is gorgeous, the characters are flawed in all the right ways. I wish this was getting the attention (and sales!) that it deserves — I really hope its audience finds it.
5 Stars

Every Heart a DoorwayEvery Heart a Doorway

by Seanan McGuire
My original post
Here’s a book that doesn’t have to worry about attention or audience, it has one — and it’s probably growing. It deserves it. Short, sweet (and not-sweet) and to the point. I may have to buy a two copies of the sequel so I don’t have to fight my daughter for it when it’s released.
5 Stars

Lady Cop Makes TroubleLady Cop Makes Trouble

by Amy Stewart
My original post
Stewart took the really good historical crime novel she wrote last year and built on that foundation one that’s far more entertaining without sacrificing anything that had come before. We’ll be reading about the Kopp sisters for a while, I think.
4 Stars

Genrenauts: The Complete Season One CollectionGenrenauts: The Complete Season One Collection

by Michael R. Underwood
My original post
Yeah, here I am again, flogging Underwood’s Genrenaut stories — whether in individual novellas, audiobooks, or in this collection — you need to get your hands on this series about story specialists who travel to alternate dimensions where stories are real and what happens in them impacts our world — Underwood has a special alchemy of Leverage + The Librarians + Quantum Leap + Thursday Next going on here, and I love it.
5 Stars

There were a few that almost made the list — almost all of them did make the Top 10 for at least a minute, actually. I toyed with a Top 17 in 2016 but that seemed stupid — and I’ve always done 10, I’m going to stick with it. But man — these were all close, and arguably better than some of those on my list. Anyway here they are: What You Break by Reed Farrel Coleman (my original post), Children of the Different by SC Flynn (my original post), Thursday 1:17 p.m. by Michael Landweber (my original post), We’re All Damaged by Matthew Norman (my original post), A Hundred Thousand Worlds by Bob Proehl (my original post), and Mechanical Failure by Joe Zieja (my original post).

I hope your 2016 reads were as good as these.

Morning Star by Pierce Brown

Morning StarMorning Star

by Pierce Brown
Series: Red Rising, #3

Hardcover, 518 pg.
Del Rey, 2016

Read: February 24 – March 3, 2016

“There is no pain. Only joy,” they chant, deep in the embrace of the god’s bread. Sefi begins the war bellow. Her voice higher than Ragnar’s. Her two wing-sisters join her. Then their wing-sisters, until dozens fill the com with their song, giving me a sense of grandeur as my mind tells my body to flee. This is why the Obsidians chant. Not to sow terror. But to feel brave, to feel kinship, instead of isolation and fear.

Sweat drips down my spine.

Fear is not real.

Holiday deactivates her safety.

“Njar la tagag . . . ”

My razor goes rigid.

PulseWeapon shudders and whines, priming.

Body trembles. Mouth full of ashes. Wear the mask. Hide the man. Feel nothing. See everything. Move and kill. Move and kill. I am not a man. They are not men.

The chanting swells. . . “Syn tir rjyka!”

Fear is not real.

If you’re watching, Eo, it’s time to close your eyes.

The Reaper has come. And he’s brought hell with him.

And when The Reaper, Darrow of Lykos, says he’s brought hell with him, you’d best believe it.

With books that come later in a series — especially with the last volume — there are huge expectations and hopes. Sometimes the book’s a disappointment; sometimes it’s as good as you hoped — every now and then, it’s better than you’d hoped. And then there are the times you get something like Morning Star. I want to avoid hyperbole, and I don’t want to over-sell, so let me just say that Pierce Brown delivered. I’m not sure how to talk about this book — one of my most anticipated reads of 2016 — other than to say it did not disappoint in the slightest, and if it doesn’t find its way to my favorite reads of 2016, I’d be flummoxed (although that would mean we have an unbelievably good 9 months ahead).

We pick up about a year after Golden Son — well, that’s not true. We start off with one of those aggravating teases for events later in the book before starting the actual story. If I’m going to complain about it in Freedom’s Child a couple of weeks ago, I’d better complain about it here. Thankfully, it’s a brief tease and you can forget it quickly because Chapter 1 doesn’t wait too long to get to the brutality that this series is so capable of bringing, making you forget about trivial things like bad ways to start a novel. I’m not going to get into the plot — if you’re curious, start with Red Rising and catch up. If you’ve read one or two of these books, I just want to assure you that you should grab this.

Red Rising was like the love child of Ender’s Game and The Hunger Games hopped up on amphetamines, steroids and too much Red Bull. Golden Sun was a roller coaster of stomach-lurching twists and turns and shattered hopes. Morning Star has elements of both, but it also reads like a series of climatic scenes from epic novels and movies stacked on top of one another — Jackson’s The Lord of The Rings + Gladiator + The Patriot + a few more things like that on the day that Michael settles all family business. Somehow, Brown keeps the tension mounting from chapter to chapter, in a way that every battle, every encounter feels like it could be the novel’s climax. Yet when the actual climax happens you’re not prepared.

Having been trained by Golden Son, I spent a lot of time expecting a betrayal, waiting for the sucker punch I knew was coming. But it wasn’t that kind of book* — it was a book of hard choices — even compromises (the good kind) — of people doing the right thing, to the best of their understanding. Not always the best for themselves, but the best for their principles, their loved ones, their people. Family — biological family, extended family, found family — is a major theme throughout. It shouldn’t be surprising considering that this all started with a husband and wife, but when you think of The Red Rising Trilogy, family isn’t one of the first words that come to mind. Well, after you read this, it might be.

Lieutenant Commander Worf, son of Mogh, would’ve approved of so much of the action here (on both sides). The pages dripped with honor and nobility (in both classic and more modern understandings of the concepts). Despite it being a mainstay in fiction, I have a hard time buying the concept of noble deaths, but man . . . there’s one roughly midway through the that got me in just the right way. The dying was a little more protracted than Brown’s typical practice, giving him time to do more with it narratively. It was such a good piece of writing (even if all the individual elements in the scene were cliché), it’s one of the most effective parts of the series. Once it starts, you know what’s happening, you know how the effects of it will play out, but it still works. It’s like the da da da dummm at the beginning of the 5th — everyone knows it, but if an orchestra does it right? It’s powerful stuff.

Like a good general — Brown’s always a few steps ahead of the reader, well, me. As before, he surprised me all the time. There were a couple of times that I came close to seeing his play — technically — but his actual move was so much better than I’d guessed, I might as well have been moving checkers around his chess board.

Before I came across the section I quoted in my opening, I was going to use:

Now I remember hate.

I’m glad I didn’t. Morning Star isn’t about that. After Golden Son (or after Eo’s death), that’s what you expect: Darrow going all John Wick/Beatrix Kiddo/Frank Castle, but that’s not what the book is. Darrow is much more than a vengeance-machine. He’s more than rage, more than hatred — he’s full of both, no mistake. But that’s not all that’s driving him.

And because there’s more to him, the book — the series — is elevated to something beyond a great SF/Action romp. When Darrow, his friends and/or his army say something, do something to send a message, more often than not, it’s inspiring, at the very least, stirring. In the end, Darrow’s mission isn’t about destroying the Golds (although there is plenty of destruction), it’s something more.

The question is, can he fulfill this mission? What would that look like? It is so close to the final page when you get the actual answers to those (and all the other) questions you have.

Oh yeah, and Brown made me laugh out loud once. There were heartwarming moments, moments of joy, moments of awe. In the midst of the chaos, the violence, the destruction, and all the blood? Rays of humanity everywhere.

Simply put, this is the perfect conclusion for this fantastic series. I can’t think of a more fitting way for Brown to have concluded things. If you liked Red Rising and Golden Son, you’ll love this.


* Which isn’t to say that there aren’t gut punches.

—–

5 Stars