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

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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