Darrow returns as Pierce Brown’s New York Times bestselling Red Rising series continues in the thrilling sequel to Dark Age.
“The measure of a man is not the fear he sows in his enemies. It is the hope he gives his friends.”—Virginia au Augustus
The Reaper is a legend, more myth than man: the savior of worlds, the leader of the Rising, the breaker of chains.
But the Reaper is also Darrow, born of the red soil of Mars: a husband, a father, a friend.
The worlds once needed the Reaper. But now they need Darrow. Because after the dark age will come a new age: of light, of victory, of hope.
Thanks to David at Penguin Random House and Del Ray for the review copy. Of course, this review copy had no bearing on the review itself, anyone who knows me will know I’m madly in love with Red Rising as a series, and this entry was no different in that fact. As you can see from the rating, it only just missed the top mark by a little, and I’ll try to explain why below. I’ll try to find the words to describe just how I felt about this behemoth.
There may be some spoilers ahead, but only for the previous entries in the series. I’ve kept it spoiler-free for this current book, for those who haven’t read but want to know how the book felt to read, from my point of view.
Light Bringer in itself is a twister of emotion – a torrent so raw and aggressive it scratched away at my psyche only to pick at the scab chapter after chapter. It was brutal, but not in the way of Dark Age. If the previous book was huge, total war in its bloated and truest of forms, then this was personal, a knife in the dark, twisted.
Okay, so Light Bringer was quite different from what we’ve seen for a while, the scope of the series has always been large, how can it not be when it spans the known solar system? In Iron Gold we saw Darrow facing off against the Society Remnant, headed toward the last fleets of the Ash Lord, only to find him already dead and a knife in his back in the form of his Scepter Armada headed by his surviving daughter, Atalantia au Grimmus, in the orbit of Mercury. In Dark Age, Darrow and the Lost Legions are marooned on Mercury and face orbital bombardment, an Iron Rain, torture at the hands of the Fear Knight, and the wrath of the Storm Gods, at the hands of an insane Orion. It is army to army, dogfighting in the desert, nuclear warheads firing and terraforming-scale storms smashing and destroying … and then Light Bringer comes along. These are quiet moments, bonds formed. There’s action, but on the back of character work and not leading it. It solos in on the individual, focuses on the smaller fights, the personal battles. It was a complete change of pace but for good reason. We needed a breather from Dark Age, our heroes needed to regroup, make new bonds and mend old ones. The book itself felt like the largest by a long way, just through the sheer number of places visited, conversations had, moments taken. If you’re looking for a book that follows on from Dark Age in spirit, then this one might surprise you. But for good reason. I can’t go into too much detail on the POV or even the character relationships, because I realise at the point we left off in Dark Age, the despair and destruction, it’s very easy to spoil Light Bringer by even mentioning one character who spoke to the other. There’s always the how and why they got together etc.
For the POVs that I can talk about, I’ll say I enjoyed Mustang’s and the action that we got to see her in. Since Iron Gold, she’s stood as a figurehead that didn’t really come into her own as Virginia, but rather as the Sovereign. In Light Bringer, we explore a lot more of Virginia, what makes her tick, and what she will do to protect those she loves. I feel like this is the first book we’ve really got to see her intelligence in action since the Institute, it had an element of Red Rising in that respect in this book. Each character came into their own again. In a sense, we stepped back from the Solar Republic’s war against the Society Remnant and got to feel, know and see Virginia’s war against those who would see her dead. And oh boy does she not disappoint. Lyria also has grown on me, though I can’t yet tell entirely where her character arc will end up. She was a very, very intriguing part of this book, but really, she is the centre of a lot of spoilers, so that is all I’ll say. I’m glad she came into her own.
Darrow, Darrow, Darrow … just how do you pick yourself up after the events of Dark Age? You don’t do it alone, you do it among friends. You listen to people around you and take support, you do not shoulder it alone: and we see a lot of that here. Again, I’m going to compare Darrow’s story here to that of the Institute in Red Rising. Though matured through the years and battles since the first book, the story comes full circle in Light Bringer. His point of view at times is very introspective and slower-paced, it focuses on relationships, rebuilding that character, and doing away with the warlord, ArchImperator Darrow, and again focuses on Darrow the Red, Darrow the man. Pierce did a fantastic job at repositioning and refocusing Darrow’s purpose – forgotten as it had been through the grit and horror of war. Though, in those slow, personal, and talkative moments, it is where Pierce best knows how to tear your heart out.
There was only one downside for me, and I felt that was this time the characters did a lot of their working-out-of-problems in many many long and drawn-out conversations, there was a lot more telling the reader what was happening through this conversation, and a lot less letting the actions and words speak for themselves. It did seem like at times there was an attempt to force us as a reader to feel the way the story wanted us to feel, rather than making our own minds up. But that really is my only complaint in the field of compliments.
Though this book was not my favourite in the series (I really, really do love the full-metal, war-on-steroids masterpiece that is Dark Age) it is the first book in the series that truly, truly broke my heart. I won’t be afraid to say this book made me cry and properly. It is the first book to do so. I can’t go into the why or how, but for a book to really capture my emotion like that, it proves it is something special. Pierce did not earn that in cheap writing, or careless death, he earnt that in masterful character work. In order to make someone feel, you have to make them care. And I certainly did care.
Overall, you won’t learn much about the book from this review, you won’t get snippets of what’s to come, I couldn’t do that to any of you. But I will conclude by telling you, though we waited long for it, Pierce Brown has certainly not lost his mojo. Light Bringer truly earns its place as the penultimate book in the Red Rising Saga, which I cannot recommend enough.