Morning Star
Pierce Brown
Del Rey
Release Date:  February 9, 2016
ISBN 978-0-345-53984-7

If there really is a “livin’ the dream” in publishing, then Pierce Brown has got to be its poster boy.

His debut novel, Red Rising – the first of a planned trilogy – hit bookstores in 2014 and became an immediate hit.  The public loved his tale of Darrow, a lowly Red from the depths of Mars who was recruited to infiltrate the elite Golds and help bring about a revolution; critics were on board, too, and life was good.  The second book of the trilogy, Golden Son, came out in 2015 to even greater acclaim.

But wait. Even before Red Rising came out, it was announced that Universal Pictures had won the bidding war for movie rights to the trilogy; Marc Forster was announced as director (if that name sounds familiar, he’s also directed the likes of Finding Neverland, The Kite Runner, Quantum of Solace, and World War Z).  Author Pierce Brown was tapped to write the script.

Now the third book in the series has come out.  And you know what?  The hype is real.  Morning Star is a wonderful conclusion to a powerful and well wrought trilogy.

The end of Golden Son was devastating.  Like all good second entries in a trilogy, it continues to build hope and then snatches it away at the last moment, leaving us bereft and desperate to know what happens next.  But what Pierce Brown does with Morning Star is bring us a finale that – while we may know where it is going – keeps us in a constant state of guessing and double-guessing (and then surprises us with what ultimately happens).  While we never fully forget about the end game, it’s so darned easy to get caught up in the moment, because the moment is unfolding so magnificently.

I’ve got to hand it to Pierce Brown – he sure knows how to handle conflict.  There is a lot of fighting in Morning Star (heck, in the entire trilogy), but it never becomes rote.  The players change, the circumstances change, the weapons change – even the formulas change (epic space battles, yo!), but the clarity of the battle, as vicious as it often is, remains.  War is a nasty business, not matter how much honor is attached to it, and kudos to Pierce Brown for having that be the focus even as he revels in his characters going all beast mode on us.

Oh, yes, he makes us look.  We are never allowed to blink or look away; death comes both swiftly and slow, to friend and foe alike.  His battles occur on the page in real time; there are precious few “fade to blacks,” no cut scenes, no alternate POVs.  We are with Darrow virtually every step of the way, every stumble, every vindication, every beat down, every triumph.  This is EPIC modern sci-fi future fantasy and it embraces the clash and confrontation, the tragic hero and the uncompromising purpose.  Its theme music would be akin a Wagnerian overture:  romantic, vital, loud, sweeping, lush and full of crescendos that leaves you breathless, even as you know there is more to come.

But why this works is because Pierce Brown has laid such a strong and unshakeable foundation in his previous two books:  where Darrow came from and who he really is underneath his construct, his reasons for fighting and why he cannot give up, the family and friendships that keep him from despair, the ideals that keep him strong.  There are so many built up, precious, important moments seamlessly woven into the narrative that we aren’t even aware of how vested we are in this story, these characters, until they tear us apart with loss, heartbreak, betrayal.

But it’s not just character-driven moments that create this worlds-to-be-fought-for/power-to-be-grasped dynamic.  It’s also the lilt of the language and the words and phrases that define the different cultures, the strengths and weaknesses of the color-driven hierarchy (colors may stratify, but they also unite), the embracing of the person as the persona (the Reaper of Lykos, Ares and the Sons of Ares, Mustang, the Jackal), the acknowledgement that responsibility does not end when the battle does, that the people still starve even if the day is won – all this has been cultivated in the first two books and the payoff in Morning Star is immeasurable.

Is it perfect?  No.  There’s s bit too much angst at times, and some of the most promising new characters tend to languish.  But there’s a flip side to any argument against:  when the stakes get higher, so does the sense of responsibility; for each new character that struggles for purchase there is a trilogy arching character that shines (oh, Sevro!) even if they don’t make it to the final page.  This is wonderful stuff, folks, you absolutely don’t want to miss out.  If you haven’t jumped on the Red Rising bandwagon yet, let me help you on board.

After all, you’ll want to get your fill before the movies come out (fingers crossed)!

~ Sharon Browning

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