(And now, for the much-belated review of Pierce Brown’s “Red Rising” trilogy; sorry for the wait!)
Review by Curtis Cole
It is the last star to fade before the morning comes—this is how Morning Star defines its namesake. It is meant to signify the solitary nature of a leader and their lonely road. Just the same, it could also signify the final installment of a beloved trilogy before the inevitable ruin of ‘the end’ pours across the literary abyss. However which way you want to look at it, however, this much is clear—the science fiction space opera trilogy which began thunderously with Red Rising but a few short years ago, is now concluded, and fans of Darrow’s exploits must cope with his loss.
Concluding the narrative which Red Rising started and Golden Son continued, Morning Star marshals all of the universe’s pent up rage into a series of confrontations between rebels and Gold society elites. Fans of the two previous novels will delight in the devious schemes, double-crossings, smart strategies, and epic battles juxtaposed against jaw dropping twists. Brown’s authorial hallmarks are in abundance.
Many aspects of this novel are familiar; from how the protagonist overcomes obstacles to the writing style and tone, much seems unchanged from the previous two entries. And yet… something has changed, something serious, something which, unfortunately, brings the whole endeavor down and marks this conclusion as a rushed, uninspired draft. Using but a few words, I can say this: that though I enjoyed this entry, I could have enjoyed it more, and that ‘more’ is unfortunately where the bulk of the novel lied.
In order to avoid lengthy tangents, I will be curt in my misgivings about Brown’s concluding text. So I will just list my biggest objections: (1) The overall feeling of the text is, as I mentioned, uninspired. Whereas the previous entries felt masterfully constructed and labored upon with love, infused with an intelligent design that bloomed a rhizomatic array of creative fervor, Morning Star lacks; motivations, characters, situations, the simple construction of the fictional world, it all feels hurried to the point of providing an amateurish glossing instead of an actual experience. Characters are introduced only to vanish once their contribution to the rebellion has been made. Meanwhile, other characters’ fate comes off as hackneyed, as though an article of faith is missing from their departure. (2) Plot points are contrived. Much like Andy Weir’s much-celebrated novel The Martian, no sense of danger exists for the protagonist. Correction: danger does exist for him, in excess, even, but wears thin after one too many authorial feint. One can only fear for a character so much after witnessing deception after deception salvaging his person. Such tired means are but (3), the signal that the author has given up in trying to provide a realistic solution to the narrative’s central problems without recourse to Dues Ex Machinia. In short, there is always another ally waiting in the shadows to strike at Darrow’s foes in the last instances of an absurdly crafted battle plan. Written out of sight of the reader’s eye, what one experiences instead of a cathartic resolution is the indomitable victory of the protagonist while you, the foolish and ignorant reader, thought anything approaching (lasting) harm would ever befall him. In sum, what we see here in Morning Star is what reads like a decent second draft.
If we wanted to become philosophical, we could connect this hastily penned manuscript to the novel’s oblique political ending: with the society of colors shaken to its very core, it is reasonable that one would see a cut and dry ending heralding the dawn of a new age while quickly wrapping up loose ends. Alas, Brown divests from this option and opts instead for an opportunistic petty-bourgeois ending featuring war weary heroes pontificating upon the chaos of the future they unleashed, and whether society will bear the brunt of the violence and lead to something new.
It is trite. It is reactionary.
Concerning the trilogy’s central issue, the freedom of the enslaved Reds, and the abolishment of caste society, nothing is resolved (it is sort of like if a whiny Libertarian Bernie Sanders were translated into book form). A future is hinted at through references to reform and violent actions, thus creating a screen for any number of politicized phantasies to be projected. No concrete details, however, can be parsed as to what this future will entail; Brown, meanwhile, bows to his heteronormative proclivities by providing an eye-rolling anti-conclusion.
All of this is nothing more than an artistic translation of our reality’s present moment of strategic denial. When a coherent revolutionary alternative is lacking—a lacking which projects itself into the artistic fold by enabling such pessimistic dribble, the core of any society’s artistic imagination will wander. And so it is with Brown’s text, where we see the mistrust of liberation and the forestalled conclusion enact modernity’s weary apprehension of emancipatory politics in favor of uncertain futures and likely betrayals on a backdrop of endless strife. In such a scenario, how else could have such a progressive trilogy ended, especially when the author has tasted success and starts apprehending the all mighty dollar? Though the trilogy began with passionate Leftist energy (which we may perhaps call pseudo-leftist), its whimpering end of a bang, as connoted through its lazy construction and cowardly, hesitant finale, is hardly surprising.
Morning Star (Book three of the Red Rising trilogy)
545 pages. Published by Del Rey. $14.99 (Kindle), $4.99 (Audible narration). 2016.