Thursday, April 14, 2016

Concluding an Epic Space Opera: Pierce Brown's Morning Star (Red Rising #3)

Finally done this really remarkable series that can only be described as a spectacular space opera. Brown has become a master of writing not only the most breathtakingly fast and brutally violent battle sequences with captivating twists that leave us hanging on for dear life and short of breathe, he also manages to take the reader from these adrenaline infused highs to the quietest come downs, where the various characters (who you truly become attached to) share their love with one another and try their best to communicate their adoration with one another as they share the journey to destroy the despotic rulers of the world Brown has created.

Just like the two first instalments of the series, Morning Star continues Darrow's journey as a working class miner turned gladiator golden warrior as he builds his forces to end the despotic and cruel rule of the solar system's sovereign. Surrounded by his love interest and genuinely brilliant warrior Mustang and his closest friend, crazed lunatic and leader of the guerilla forces of the uprising, Sevro, Morning Star keeps us guessing at how Darrow will be able to destroy the more than formidable forces of the ruler Golds. Brown again gives us battle scenes not for the feint at heart, filled with tactical brilliance but also with gory bloodshed, Brown never hesitating to give us all the detail of human destruction we didn't think we needed to hear but are still enthralled to receive when handed to us in Brown's amazing prose. He also gives us a fair share of tragedy, as we lose some of the most valiant of Darrow's warrior brothers and sisters and I must say there were moments where I just wanted to scream. As much as these books are action oriented, they are also about friendship and loyalty and Brown's exploration of these themes leave even the most cynical reader with a tear down their cheek.

I have recommended this series to quite a few people and all that I know have been captivated by Brown's story telling ability and on this front this book does not disappoint. This is a space opera where there is no shame cheering on as the solar systems oppressed colours take on the structures of oppression.

There were lingering issues though that I feel I must discuss and why I have only given it 4 stars rather than 5. 


This series is a political drama. You can't call your first book Red Rising and put a sickle on the cover of the concluding chapter without the reader drawing some conclusions. The heart of the story is about the oppressed labourers of the society throwing off their shackles. The slogan of their uprising is "break the chains." Yet despite this gutsy and radical politic, Brown decides to not take his story to a more satisfying conclusion. 

Firstly, there is a moment early in the novel where the solar systems richest man, Quicksilver, who turns out to be a Son of Ares, gives a long speech about him not being a communist or an anarchist, expressly rejects democracy and stating his aims to liberate the free market from the stifling caste system that has ruled the system for 700 years. This is rather conventional libertarianism that really seems out of place in this story and while there are indications that this political view isn't readily accepted by Darrow and other prominent figures of the rising I found it problematic that this is the only explicit political speech of its sort in the whole book. There is no challenge to it and it feels like Quicksilver's view are what Brown wants to suggest is truly wrong with society, as if the free market is a panacea that once unleashed will solve the inequitable distribution of wealth and power in the Society.

Even more problematic is the conclusion, where Mustang emerges as sovereign and Darrow concedes that a compromised victory is necessary to avoid a brutal chaos that the society cannot take any longer after a drawn out and brutal war. While Mustang does undo some of the most draconian elements of the old regime, I am disappointed that Brown doesn't offer up a much more radically democratic vision as a possible outcome. Breaking down the caste system is certainly progress, but the society would still be dependent on the hell divers who provide the energy for everyone else. Those who labour would still be subject to exploitation and class structures would certainly remain even with the most repugnant elements of the society gone. I kept wanting to scream, "a political revolution is not enough Darrow".

Darrow hints that not all in the rising would be satisfied with the compromise but determines that the compromise is necessary to let those who have ruled and those who have been ruled come to terms with each others existence. But why? Why should those whose position is still dependent on the labour of others be given license to continue living off the labour of others? Even if the Reds and other subservient colours pushed toward a more radical change and democratic order, why would it inevitably result in Gold extermination (which Darrow seems to fear)? Revolutions obviously involve bloodshed as those with power resist having that power taken away, but for the amount of blood Darrow spilt in these three books, he gets squeamish rather quickly when a little more blood may be needed to bring true just outcomes for the solar systems most oppressed.

I feel that Brown's own political limitations come through here. We get to see the shallow horizon of what he believes is possible, the limits his imagination has about what kind of order could or should be built out of the defeat of the sovereign. Brown promises to continue the story of the aftermath and explore what world the remaining populations try to build. I hope he uses his future books (which I am totally going to read) to explore a more radically democratic alternative to the class society Darrow seems to accept as the best outcome at this particular junction. We will wait and see.

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