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

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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

Golden Son by Pierce Brown

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.

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

The Best Novels I Read in 2014

I somehow failed at this exercise last year, but I managed to pull it off for 2014. Phew, starting the year off with one in the Win column! Before we get to The Best of, if you’re really curious, here’s a list of every book I read in 2014.

While compiling the best, I started with what I’d rated 5 stars — just 11 novels. I could take just the best 10 of those — piece of cake, right? Wrong. There were titles I expected to see there that weren’t, and a couple that I was surprised to see listed. So I looked at the 4 and 4½ books — and had a similar reaction.

Now, I stand by my initial ratings — for honesty’s sake as much as laziness. But I did put some of my lower rated books in the best, knocking some 5-star books out. They might have been impressive workds, doing everything I wanted — but some of these others stuck with me in ways the 5’s didn’t — emotional impact, remembering details/stories in more vivid detail, that sort of thing.

Eh, it’s all subjective anyway, so why not? I did try to account for recency bias in this — and pretty sure I succeeded, but I may owe an apology or two.

Later today, I’ll post the Honorable Mentions list and the Worst of List — as well as what I’m looking forward to most in 2015. The Day of Lists, apparently. With one exception, I limited these lists to things I hadn’t read before (it shows up in the Honorable Mention post). Enough jibber-jabber, on to the Best Novels I read in 2014:

(in alphabetical order)

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

by Pierce Brown
My Review
This was exciting, compelling, devastating, thrilling, and occasionally revolting. I can’t tell you the number of people I’ve recommended this one to this year.
5 Stars

Skin Game (The Dresden Files, #15)Skin Game

by Jim Butcher
My Review
It almost feels like a cheat to put this on the list, but I don’t know if any of the books since Changes would’ve made a year end list, so it’s not like Butcher/Dresden owns a spot here. I laughed, I got pretty darn misty a time or two, I’m pretty sure I audibly reacted to a victory also. Best of this series in awhile.
5 Stars

The Girl With All the GiftsThe Girl With All the Gifts

by M.R. Carey
My Review
This probably would’ve gotten 5-star rating from me if it hadn’t had to overcome genre/subject prejudice. Still, freakishly good.
4 1/2 Stars

Robert B. Parker's Blind SpotRobert B. Parker’s Blind Spot

by Reed Farrel Coleman
My Review
Coleman knocked this one out of the park, erasing the bad taste that his predecessor had left, and making me look forward to reading this series in a way I hadn’t for years. As good as (better in some ways, worse in others) Parker at his best.
5 Stars

Those Who Wish Me DeadThose Who Wish Me Dead

by Michael Koryta

My Review
Not the best Koryta book I’ve ever read, but something about this one has stuck with me since I finished it. Solid suspense, exciting stuff.
4 Stars

Endsinger (The Lotus War, #3)Endsinger

by Jay Kristoff
My Review
I knew going in that this was going to be a. well-written, b. brutal and c. a good conclusion to the series (well, I expected that last one, expected tinged with hope.). It didn’t let me down. I admit, I shed a tear or two, felt like I got punched in the gut a couple of times and didn’t breathe as often as I should’ve while reading. Such a great series.
5 Stars

The Republic of ThievesThe Republic of Thieves

by Scott Lynch
My Review is forthcoming
Can’t believe I haven’t finished this review yet — it’s 80% done, I just can’t figure out how to tie the paragraphs together in a way to make it coherent and (I hope) interesting. A lot of this book is a prequel to The Lies of Locke Lamora and yet there was genuine suspense about those parts. Lynch had a big challenge introducing us to a character here that had achieved near-mythic status, and she ended up living up to expectations. Just a gem of a book.
5 Stars

The Winter LongThe Winter Long

by Seanan McGuire
My Review is forthcoming
Again, I’m not sure how I haven’t finished this review yet. McGuire takes a lot of what Toby’s “known” since we met her (all of which is what we’ve “known,” too) and turns it upside down and shakes the truth out. Every other book in the series has been affected by these revelations — which is just so cool. There’s also some nice warm fuzzies in this book, which isn’t that typical for the series. McGuire’s outdone herself.
5 Stars

WonderWonder

by R. J. Palacio
My Review
Heart-breaking, inspiring, saved from being cliché by the interesting narrative choices Palacio made. Yeah, it’s After School Special-y. So what? Really well done. I have no shame saying this kids’ book made me tear up (even thinking about it know, I’m getting bit misty-eyed).
5 Stars

The MartianThe Martian

by Andy Weir

My Review
Very science-y (but you don’t have to understand it to enjoy the book); very exciting; very, very funny. Only book I’ve recommended to more people than Red Rising — I think I’ve made everyone over 12 in my house read it (to universal acclaim). Not sure why I haven’t made my 12-year old, yet.
5 Stars

Red Rising by Pierce Brown

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