And I wonder […] if the planet does not mind that we wound her surface or pillage her bounty, because she knows we silly warm things are not even a bAnd I wonder […] if the planet does not mind that we wound her surface or pillage her bounty, because she knows we silly warm things are not even a breath in her cosmic life. We have grown and spread, and will rage and die. And when all that remains of us is our steel monuments and plastic idols, her winds will whisper, her sands will shift, and she will spin on and on, forgetting about the bold, hairless apes who thought they deserved immortality.
I very rarely write reviews of a third book in a series/trilogy. I think it’s a combination of laziness and also a surety that my star rating is the only thing people are looking for anyway at this point. I mean, if you’ve made it to Book 3 there’s not much more I can say to convince you of anything. I also have to toe the line of how much I spoil. Has the reader of this review already read Book 2? Can I safely refer to the spoilers in that book at least?
I know I go on and on about Darrow and what a putz he is, but this series has been a really unique reading experience for me in that regard. Pierce Brown is an undeniably talented writer. He has created a fascinating world colored with some amazing characters I grew to care deeply about (Ragnar, Sevro, Victra, etc.). Not only are the action scenes written really well, but there’s so much meaty emotional stuff here, too. (I mean my heart still hurts thinking about that whipping scene in Book 1). So many great character dynamics and arcs.
Brown knows his stuff. So, why doesn’t Darrow work? Why is he such a Gary-Stu? IS he a Gary-Stu? Wouldn’t Sevro have been a more interesting character to follow and rally behind as a reader? And what was it that Brown did to make me finally care about Darrow as a character (because, reader, I do). I see a lot of people on Goodreads who don’t pursue the rest of the series because they don’t like Darrow and can’t get past it. I guess now that I’m on the RR fangirl train and gave this book 5 stars that I have to address it.
When you have this larger than life character, this One Great Hope, this almost spiritual figurehead, I think as a reader you need to be one step removed from them for it to work. There needs to be a mystery there for me to buy it. In the Red Rising trilogy you get to have these really human moments with Darrow inside his head with his doubts and fears and quiet thoughts and then on the next page he does a 180 and is giving a moving speech to “his people” talking to them like he’s a god. This line in Golden Son killed me:
“Fight for each other,” I say over the com to those at my side in the riverbed. “Or me.” I would have snorted into my com if I’d been by his side in that riverbed.
But I have come to the conclusion that at least 70% of Darrow hate would be erased simply if he weren’t written in first person. Take this section for example: I pace my bridge like a caged wolf, his meal just beyond the bars. The kindness of me hidden again behind the Reaper’s savage face. “Virga, are the Howlers in position?” I ask.
It is instantly more palatable in a different narration style: Darrow paces the bridge like a caged wolf, his meal just beyond the bars. The kindness of him hidden again behind the Reaper’s savage face. “Virga, are the Howlers in position?” he asks.
I literally can’t handle Darrow referring to himself in his head as a hungry caged wolf or having a “savage face”. But have an omniscient narrator (or another character) do it and I am genuinely creeped out a bit.
Now having said all that, with Morning Star I felt the warmest I’ve ever felt towards Darrow. To say the novel opens with him at an incredibly low point in his life would be an understatement. Darrow is broken emotionally, physically, mentally… and when you have your perfect god-characters broken, it’s certainly a sight to see.
Tears leak from my eyes, not from the pain, but from the casualness of his cruelty. It makes me feel so small. Why does it take so little for him to hurt me so much?
You can tell that Brown took pains to further prove how human and fallible Darrow is, to humble him as a character as well as elevate the secondary characters as truly heroic ((view spoiler)[ It is Sevro who shows up when all hope seems lost to help save the day. It is Cassius who turns the tide by switching sides. It is Mustang who becomes the next leader of the people. (hide spoiler)]). Yes, Darrow still comes up with the Best Plans Ever and rarely seems to break a sweat, but he only succeeds because of the people he has around him. It’s a team effort, and more so than the other books, you truly feel that. You believe Darrow’s need and love for these other strong characters, so it’s ok to just roll your eyes every once and awhile when he makes a dumb speech. His heart is in the right place and he’s damn good at his job. I’ll give him a break.
Things that were great: 1. Sevro. Bloodydamn Sevro. One moment he’s dropping gems like these: “If there’s two things in this world that can’t be killed, it’s the fungus under my sack and the Reaper of bloodydamn Mars. Haha!” And the next moment I’m ugly crying inside because Darrow refers to Sevro as his “mangy little guardian angel” and it’s just too true. (view spoiler)[ And that whole sequence of Sevro paralleling the whipping scene from Red Rising had me dying. My little Goblin has grown up so much!! (hide spoiler)] 2. Ragnar. RAGNAR. 3. Victra, Cassius, Kavax….just all of the intriguing side characters and their quirks and personalities. 4. World-building is even more fleshed out. Did you always wonder why they didn’t just invent robots to do the Reds job and thought it was a plothole that they didn’t? Well, jokes on you, because the rebels thought the same thing. There’s some really neat deconstructing of the Golds and their society that they have created, including the intentional stagnant nature of it. As a huge nerd, I really dug all of that. 5. This subtle love letter to the fans who hated Darrow in book 1: “Shit, I was a little idiot. You would have hated me. I was comfortable and arrogant and selfish on my knees. I liked being blind to everything because I was in love. And I thought for some reason that living for love was the most valiant thing in all the worlds. Even made Eo into something in my head that she wasn’t. Romanticized her and the life we had—probably because I saw my father die for some cause. And I saw all he left behind, so I tried to cling to the life he abandoned.” Preach, Darrow, preach! 6. Managed to nicely wrap up the series, while still leaving pleeeeenty of room left to explore in a continued or connected series. 7. Pierce, let's be friends. I like you a lot.
I always wondered how I survived the Institute. It damn well wasn’t because of my father. He was a gentle man. Mother is the spine in me. The iron. And I clutch her hand as if such a simple gesture could say all that. --- Absent love, fear will do nicely in a pinch. --- Her head is caved in. I stare at it. Wondering why I’m not horrified at the scene. Some part of me has died. But when did it die? Why did I not notice? --- I thought being a man was having control. Being the master and commander of your own destiny. How could any boy know that freedom is lost the moment you become a man. Things start to count. To press in. Constricting slowly, inevitably, creating a cage of inconveniences and duties and deadlines and failed plans and lost friends. --- I’m a bloodydamn Helldiver with an army of giant, mildly psychotic women behind me and a fleet of state-of-the-art warships crewed by pissed-off pirates, engineers, techs, and former slaves. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I hate how my body shivers at the idea of glory. There’s something deep in man that hungers for this. But I think it weakness, not strength, to abandoI hate how my body shivers at the idea of glory. There’s something deep in man that hungers for this. But I think it weakness, not strength, to abandon decency for that strange darker spirit.
So two years have passed, and we open upon Always Perfect Darrow failing at something and causing the metaphorical space shit to hit the fan. WHAT A DELIGHT. I don’t consider that a spoiler, I consider it a neon sign incentive beckoning you to the glory that is Golden Son, because that’s only the beginning. Y’all, Darrow is a great leader, he’s a great orator, I’m not trying to hide his bushel under a basket, but as a reader when I don’t worry about my protagonist’s success or well-being, then we have a problem. I worry about Frodo Baggins, because he is a smol hobbit who is brave and pure but inexperienced and in a dark world. I am concerned for Harry Potter, because he is a slacker who needs to copy Hermione’s homework, but tomorrow he might need to fight the most powerful wizard of all time. I root for Katniss Everdeen, because she never believed her own Mockingjay hype and all she ever wanted was to be an introvert in the woods with her family.
So when you have Darrow—he of the perfect planning and hidden cards up his sleeve and never breaking a sweat—it’s hard to become invested, it’s hard to care. You know all of his plans will eventually work, you know everyone will eventually realize how brilliant he is. In fact, you will even hear Darrow describe himself TO HIMSELF as being this revolutionary, cosmic, world-shaking titan of change. My eyes will detach if they roll back any further.
I didn’t know if I could survive another whole novel of that (as much as I enjoyed most everything else about Red Rising). So to say I was pleasantly surprised when Darrow epically failed at something one chapter into Golden Son would be an understatement. Reader, I felt hope! Darrow just may be human after all! I may need to start worrying! I might become…invested!!!
But ok, does Brown eventually resort to his old tricks and take advantage of the two year time jump to cheat a little by having Darrow hold back key information AGAIN from the reader in order to shock us later (a pet peeve of mine)? Yes, but I’ll admit it’s a great scene, a BANANAS scene. And from that scene on the book takes a sharp turn to Crazy Town (like the Passage scene in book 1), and things only get better.
Not only does Darrow continue to improve as a character, but certain themes and plotlines from Red Rising that I wasn’t that fond of (vague to avoid spoilers) are revisited/expanded, and provide the reader with more meat to chew on. I appreciated that. “Remember that character who did this awful thing that at the time we kind of brushed under the rug? They’re actually still awful and it’s a pretty big deal! Realism!” Pretty much all of my non-Darrow criticisms from Red Rising are addressed (which is no small feat as I am the queen of Cynicism).
Praises: we have more Sevro! We have sweet friendship! We have sassy villains! There's duels, double crossing, betrayals. There's people firing themselves into space onto other ships or even shooting themselves onto planets. Cranky old war vets! Family and friend reunions! Sadistic torture! Complicated love lives! SUPER CUTE LOYALTY! Death & despair & sadness :(
And if none of the above convinces you to keep at it with this series, just know that you’ll miss out on reading about my main man….Ragnar. The coolest, scariest, sweetest, Grootiest Viking prince my heart will ever know.
Oh, and the cliff hanger to this book is insane.
Wrapping up this review by saying thank you to Pierce Brown. Brown, you listened. You heard the criticisms of Red Rising and you learned, you grew, and you wrote a stellar sequel. I love your writing, I love your brain…onward & upward, my friend. Onward & upward.
How cruel a life, that the sight of my dead wife means hope.
“I will die. You will die. We will all die and the universe will carry on without care. All that we have is that shout into the wind - how we live. How we go. And how we stand before we fall.”
That's what Society does--spread the blame so there is no villain, so it's futile to even begin to find a villain, to find justice. It's just machinery. Processes.
And what is the bloodydamn point of surviving in this cold world if I run from the only warmth it has to offer?
Modern war is fearing the air, the shadows, fearing the silence. Death will come and I won't even see it....more
4 stars, despite the fact that there are about two thousand instances where Kestrel & Arin have a tragic misunderstanding and/or lie to one anothe4 stars, despite the fact that there are about two thousand instances where Kestrel & Arin have a tragic misunderstanding and/or lie to one another for some noble reason. This is not a sappy YA romance. Everything is terrible. Everything hurts. What is happiness. And so you might swear and toss your book around a bit. And how about I smack that smirk off your face, Emperor?! And hey, ARIN, MAYBE QUIT BEING A DICK SO I CAN LOVE YOU AGAIN.
But seriously, I love following Kestrel's journey from a pampered noblewoman who congrats isn't the worst person ever (no, you don't get a cookie for freeing one slave, girl) who finally realizes slavery is terrible and learns to put the wellbeing of others before herself but still struggles with her lifetime of conditioning and loyalty to her father and who also learns to put her super hot romance on the back burner for the good of the people even though as readers we just want her to be happy with her boo so it's conflicting.
And it cracked me up to no end that Arin took up maybe 65% of Kestrel's thoughts (the other thoughts being about espionage and loyalty and politics and war and her Father and Jess and her puppy), meanwhile Arin's over here like 99% Kestrel Standard Time. "I HATE Kestrel! Ugh I hate her perfect mind and I hate her strength and her music and I especially hate how much I love kissing her. Ugh this random thing right here reminds me of this one time when Kestrel..."
You better believe I immediately dropped the $10 for the Kindle sequel. I rarely pay more than $5 for an ebook, but desperate times...
Because honestly all I want is for Kestrel to be happy and be with her puppy & for Arin to grovel at her feet in forgiveness & for the Emperor to go...away. These things better happen. ...more
Currently over halfway through the sequel at the time of writing this review, and I have decided that looking back on this novel, I will raise my initCurrently over halfway through the sequel at the time of writing this review, and I have decided that looking back on this novel, I will raise my initial 3.5 rating to a solid 4.
Is this book brimming with action and Hunger Games-level pacing and violence and emotions? No. But is it smart and honest and engaging? Yes. I usually read YA for the non-stop action and relentless pacing, and rarely for romance, but this novel (series?) while slow and dialogue-heavy (external and internal) still manages to deal with the tricky political machinations of war and conquest and slavery and rebellion in a way that feels genuine and thoughtful (with only occasional scenes of tightly packed drama, fighting, etc.). Is there a steamy romance? Sort of. But this is not a YA novel that looks down on its readers. It’s not the kind of novel that gives them junk food crap wrapped in tinfoil and tries to distract them with the shine. This novel tries to be good. To have substance. To dig deeper. And in today’s YA sea of trash and more trash, that’s an admirable endeavour. Too bad the book cover is horrendous. Thanks, Kindle, for protecting my reputation in public.
Now I shall return to gobbling up the sequel. ...more
Was this book heavily inspired by Harry Potter (The Goblet of Fire in particular) and The Hunger Games? Yes. Was all of the the foreshadowing super obWas this book heavily inspired by Harry Potter (The Goblet of Fire in particular) and The Hunger Games? Yes. Was all of the the foreshadowing super obvious? You bet. Was there a love triangle? No, there were two. Did An Ember in the Ashes consume my thoughts for the several days it took me to read? Surprisingly, yes!
Book synopsis: Set in a terrifyingly brutal Rome-like world, An Ember in the Ashes is an epic fantasy debut about an orphan fighting for her family and a soldier fighting for his freedom.
I don't know what it is that captivates me about certain books. Books like Harry Potter & Hunger Games that I could read again & again. That transport me to their worlds so easily and so completely. I ache for the characters, their struggles & hero journeys. These books feel like home. That's the simplest way to describe it. We all have favorite books that speak to us that way.
An Ember in the Ashes does not fall into that revered category for me. I don't know why. Maybe the writing style wasn't just right (it had its moments). Maybe it took me a little too long to take to certain characters. Or maybe this was the first time in a while I've read such a "hyped" book after it was already hyped. Oh, and did I mention the two love triangles?
So let's talk about what this book got right.
Elias. He isn't a cocky, angry douchebag (with a secret heart of gold)--although we DO get one of those, I'm looking at you, Keenan--and he also isn't a brooding mysterious psychopath. He's a young man with a horrific upbringing who is wrestling with the tension often found between self-preservation and doing what's right. I really enjoyed Elias' chapters. I found that tension intriguing. I loved that he had complex thoughts & feelings and that he was on a journey not just to free his body, but his heart & soul, too.
Laia. I know, I know, I wasn't crazy about her at first either. Mostly because I knew she was intentionally being written as overly-cowardly in the beginning so that her ~growth~ would be more pronounced. But I did enjoy her quiet strength. Her unwavering loyalty to her brother. (view spoiler)[I seriously loved that her ultimate motivation for saving Elias in the end was for her brother, not twu luvv for someone she's spoken with like 5 times. You go, girl!! Blood before studs. (hide spoiler)] Her non-fierceness was a fresh change from most YA with their Tough Girl characters (although we DO get one of those--I'm looking at you, Helene). Although she did suffer from multiple instances of injured-damsel-needs-to-be-carried-by-a-hunky-babe. But let's be real. If I ever found myself in one of these dreadful dystopian/fantasy worlds, I would way more likely be a Laia rather than a Katniss (or Helene in this case). I couldn't fight my way out of a paper bag, but you can bet I would sneak my way out meekly. Warrior Fighter Babe is the dream, and terrified yet determined weakling is the reality for most of us.
Gripping story, and while there are mild annoyances (the transparent foreshadowing I mentioned being a big one--so many times I wanted to shake the main characters and go "DUH, honey! It's so obvious, please put it together!"), this book never made me angry or offended me. Even the love triangles are done well! As realistic as a love triangle can be, really. A genuine feeling out of two different people, comparing/contrasting the dynamics. Is this lust or love? Attraction or a connection? Comfort or compatibility? Head or heart?
Overall: Tense, scary, shocking, disturbing...I stayed up past my bed time several nights in a row. I love riddles & trials & destiny & free will & rebels & empires. I got it all. Needless to say, I'm frothing at the bit for the sequel. Which comes out in August. Of 2016. Ten burning hells!["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I have to give this book props for being a YA sci-fi/fantasy book that ISN'T a trilogy and actually wraps up the story in one book. Halfway through II have to give this book props for being a YA sci-fi/fantasy book that ISN'T a trilogy and actually wraps up the story in one book. Halfway through I couldn't believe it was a standalone and had to double check that there wasn't a sequel because the way it was set up, I couldn't believe it would finish in 100+ pages. And it did. There's an epilogue. So legit.
This book has some really interesting elements. We have alien attacks, post-apocalyptic survival, massive deaths, superhero powers... The first chapter wastes no time in kicking things off with a bang. Aside from a few occasional lulls in the story, it definitely kept my interest, especially the twist at the end I did NOT see coming and the resolution.
My main gripe, and the reason I am not giving 4 stars, is the protagonist. She did nothing for me. The quiet, thin, beautiful girl who puts up walls is kind of the epitome of a stock YA female lead. Throw in a romance with a more dynamic male character and I'm left rolling my eyes over what he sees in her. So many YA books seem to suffer because the author chose to surround their (boring) leads -- male and female -- with secondary characters who are way more interesting and likable. Why do girl protagonists always have to be wallflowers who are afraid of their own ~quiet strength~? Who never feel beautiful? Madeleine is technically the strongest character -- when it comes to their supernatural powers -- but she never seems to own it. Very deus ex machina. Picture Bella from Twilight. But she can also punch a hole in a building with pure energy.
But back to those cooler secondary characters. Talk about diversity! While it did feel a little forced sometimes, I really did appreciate the variety of ethnicities, genders, etc. of all of the characters. You don't see enough of that in the SF/F genre and I love that Host made it a point to include them. Maybe they were a little too quirky sometimes, but I digress.
Also, I rarely say this about a book, but I think it could have used a little tighter editing. There were too many moments of confusion for me and a lot of re-reading of sections to figure out what the heck just happened. Nearly every new chapter begins after a period of time has passed since the end of the previous chapter. The previous chapter will end on a cliffhanger, then the next chapter starts and, like, a day has passed and they are having a conversation about things I don't know yet, and I have to try and work out what they're saying until they finally reveal what happened during that gap in time between chapters. This type of narrative trick is fine if you use it once or twice in a novel, but EVERY chapter was a little excessive. It threw off the pacing. It was annoying, but it didn't ruin the book for me by any means.
Conclusion: if you enjoy aliens and superpowers and fun, quick reads--check this one out!
I received this eARC free from the Publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review....more
This book is probably not a 4 star book overall, it's more like a 3 star book with some 4 star moments. To begin with, it's a YA book with a male narrThis book is probably not a 4 star book overall, it's more like a 3 star book with some 4 star moments. To begin with, it's a YA book with a male narrator which hardly ever works for me. Authors usually try way too hard to give the guys a "modern" colloquial way of speaking and so first person narration can often be cringe-worthy. This book had some of those moments, but it was never so annoying that you couldn't stand it. I was always pleasantly surprised when a certain passage was particularly beautiful. For example, I nearly teared up during this part:
I saw [Nicki] sobbing and heard her crying out pitifully again and again, "I want to go home! Please! I just want to go home!" And she wasn't pretty anymore or glamorous, the way she had been. But she just looked so wonderful, like such a wonderful person. I thought about how happy it always made her to dress up and wear jewelry and put on makeup and about the sweet way she would sit with the little girls in the village and teach them how to do their hair. It was as if I realized for the first time how great she was, how perfect, really, the one and only perfect Nicki of the world.
That whole sequence/chapter is probably the best part of the book; I think Andrew Klavan captured so perfectly those moments when someone is so close to death that their entire perception of the world changes. There were other "emotional" moments in the book, but nothing lived up to that early sequence. The action/dramatic scenes were fun (I put the book down a couple times during the crocodile scene holy crap), but the whole thing felt too short. It could have easily been twice as long.
I also appreciated that it wasn't ham-fistedly Christian; I'm a Christian and I can admit that most Christian books are super cheesy and lame. To be honest, I think Klavan could have even delved deeper. There could have been more discussions on the morality of certain actions the characters took and more debate on what was right and what was wrong. As it was it was really just a bunch of mentions of "praying" and even that never really got too specific.
But a part of that 4 star rating is because of Meredith. THANK YOU, author, for making the strongest character in this book a lady. ...more