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Dark Age
Red Rising Saga #5
by Pierce Brown
Del Rey, $28.99, 752 pages
Published: July 2019

And the story goes on…and on.  This enormous novel is as large as the solar system it portrays.  Please skip to the bottom and click the link to review the earlier books for background.

It’s been five years since the battle for Mars and Virginia still reigns as Sovereign.  She struggles with the usual political nonsense generated by her Senate who think they rule better than she.  And they have abandoned Darrow on Mercury; leaving millions of troops without rescue as their fleet lies in pieces throughout space – demolished by Atalantia, the Ash Lord’s daughter and now self-proclaimed Dictator of the Society.  The Senate continues to delude themselves that they can treat with Atalantia and she will be satisfied to stay on Mars.  But her ego and vision are too large to be confined to a single planet with so many just waiting for her. Darrow’s son, Pax, and the daughter of his best friend, Sevro, are still missing having been kidnapped in the previous story.

In defiance of the Senate, Virginia plans a resupply to Mercury and an eventual rescue of her beloved husband; but before she can affect the plan, both she and the Senate are ambushed and destroyed.  On Mercury, Darrow hatches a plan to utterly destroy Atalantia and the Gold Society with the help of an insane genius who is building a true weapon of mass destruction.  He continues to hope that his wife has somehow survived the coup (she did) and his son is safe.

In the Battle of Mars, Darrow relied heavily on the support of the Obsidians and in payment, he allowed them land of their own in the hopes the race would finally claim a homeland.  But that was always a long-shot.  The Obsidians were deliberately bred to be warlike and their highest aspirations had much more to do with their perceived honor than settling down into a stable society.  Sefi, as their Queen, was more visionary and tried so very hard to set her people on a different path.  But such changes need time and peace to solidify and she just wasn’t given that.  She and her people were dangerously vulnerable to a dark and mythical hero rising up to lead the people back to a more ….exciting destiny.  And it isn’t one that lends support to Darrow’s revolution.  As Sefi was the one to kidnap the two children from their kidnapper, their fate relies now on their original kidnapper to save them from the Obsidian coup.

And, amazingly enough, Lysander – grandson and heir of the previous Sovereign - still survives and has gone through a brutal personal trial.  Coming out of it, he realizes that he is the only one who might be able to salvage the whole solar system and bring peace and justice to all the Colors.  No one could fault him for not being ambitious. He appreciates Darrow’s intentions but deplores his methods which have killed billions; he fears his cousin, Atalantia, and her plan to return the system to the caste system with Golds ruling all.  So, with no resources except his name and the skills his bloodthirsty grandmother gifted to him, he plans to stop both Darrow and Atalantia.  Interspersed with the viewpoints of others in the story is the slow and inexorable advance of Lysander’s goals.  While Darrow and Atalantia are focused on each other, believing they alone will determine the fate of the system, Lysander in the shadows is the one to watch.

A more ambitious storyline, I’ve not seen; and that includes the Dune series.  The carnage and destruction makes Game of Thrones look like a vicious tea party.  Brown brings the death count to unbelievable levels and the up-close-and-personal murders (which is a small word in this context) were sufficient to put me off.  I laid this book down time and again, it took me more than a month to finish it.  It wasn’t because the writing wasn’t good, it was.  It was just a bit too graphic to take on in large gulps.

The worldbuilding is all about the people, not the geography or the environment.  The people are presented to us in first person POVs and we rely on just a few people:  Darrow, Virginia, Lysander, Lyria and Ephraim.  The author’s choice of these POVs interested me.  I understand Darrow, Virginia and Lysander.  I found Lyria and Ephraim interesting choices.  But I wonder why he didn’t use Atalantia or Sefi or even Pax, Darrow’s son.  Still the book is hefty enough with the five he chose, it would have rivaled Webster’s Unabridged had he included more.

And while he could easily have concluded the story by simply picking a winner; he seems to have a bigger vision.  We are told that billions die across three planets and a moon but we don’t really have a feel for what that means to the little people.  I think he understands that when there are that many people in existence, what happens to each of them is insignificant when the prize is a solar system. It’s an interesting perspective.  And he doesn’t shy away from slaughtering key players.  He does give himself an out, though.  Their advanced medical technology allows them to bring back those on the brink of death and even missing several parts of their bodies.

Overall, I have to say this is an epic on a grand scale in a genre known for epics.  Start now – at the beginning – don’t waste any time.  And don’t let the sheer number of pages daunt you; just take it slow.  The payoff is worth it.   ~~ Catherine Book

For more books in this series click here

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