Mad’s Favourite Book of 2016: Morning Star by Pierce Brown

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Madeleine Cassier
Producer
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2016 was a great reading year for me: my average star-rating on Goodreads was 3.9, so of the 143 books that I read, I enjoyed the majority of them. You’d think that having to pick a favourite from that list would be difficult, and had it not been for this book, I probably would have had a hard time narrowing it down from the list I originally made.

So, before I begin unabashedly gushing about my favourite, a quick little moment for the honorable mentions that were all so close, but not quite there: Maybe Someday by Colleen Hoover, The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco, Dictator by Robert Harris, The Winner’s Kiss by Marie Rutkoski, The Black Count by Tom Reiss, A Court of Mist and Fury by Sara J. Maas, Nevernight by Jay Kristoff, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke, Kill the Father by Sandrone Dazieri, Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, and Augustus by John Williams.

Right, now that that’s through: to the favourite!

Once upon a time, a man wrote a Red book and shot my emotions out of an airlock into the cold, dark vacuum of space. I thanked him for it, and moved on to the Golden sequel which took my heart and pummeled it into pieces so small, I was no longer sure there was anything left within the cavity of my chest. And so I plunged into darkness, whatever remains of that life-organ too terrified to beat for fear that this man and his Morning Star would truly obliterate it for good.

It’s no secret to anyone who either knows me in person or follows me on the internet that I adore the Red Rising trilogy by Pierce Brown — they are definitely my kind of books, filled to the brim with Classical allusions, full of heart-stopping battle sequences, and featuring a diverse range of rich, complex characters that make me laugh, cry, and swear in equal measure. The ever more prescient commentary the trilogy provides on politics and power, prejudice, and general humanity make me re-read it continuously, finding ever more parallels to our world — the good, and the not-so-good.

Besides all of the feels that this book provides me, I love how kinetic it is: it’s relentless, rarely pausing to let you catch your breath as it thunders its way to its gory and brutal, yet wholly satisfying and well-earned conclusion. And yet, through all of that, it never lets you forget that every action has a consequence; everything has a cost, and the people we love can die, sometimes for seemingly no reason at all.

I have a hard time trying to keep this post short, as I’d happily sit and ramble for pages and pages on every detail of Morning Star that I loved, and then continue on by going back to Red Rising and Golden Son to ramble about their high points as well — is this a perfect trilogy? Probably not, but it’s perfect for me, and it’s hard to imagine my fiction-loving life without these books.

This trilogy, and especially its conclusion, speak for itself, and I, as a reader, feel lucky to have been graced with Pierce Brown’s magnificent gift for storytelling. And, like many a Howler across the world, am now eagerly awaiting what he will bring us when showing the consequences of revolution in Iron Gold.

Omnis vir lupus.

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Pierce Brown

Outgoing transmission: Pierce Brown
Subject: Thank You

Of all the authorial thank you notes that I wrote for this month — several of which are wholly ridiculous in tone — yours proved the most difficult to write. You are currently reading the results of attempt number nine ten

Where to begin? I regret to say I went into Red Rising with a good deal of reservations: it was blurbed to appeal to fans of The Hunger Games and Ender’s Game (I am, alas, a fan of neither), and its jacket description made it sound like every other class system-based dystopia that had flooded the market for the past few years, or so it seemed to me. But that cover was so striking — a bright red wing on matte black — that I did what I usually tend to do in situations like these: I shrugged and bought it while thinking “Eh, why not?” (This seems to be how most of my best and worst ideas start.)

I began with the audio — I can’t remember what exactly I was doing that fateful evening, but I needed to be hands-free — and from the moment Tim Gerard Reynolds read that first line, it was like one of those moments in a film where the protagonist pauses what they’re doing and the camera pushes in with a tightening, shadowy ellipse to form a spotlight, the world around them having faded away.

“I would have lived in peace. But my enemies brought me war.”

I’m a sucker for a good revenge plot; I stand by my opinion that The Count of Monte Cristo is probably the best revenge plot ever crafted. I love me a good revolution tale; American Revolution history is some of my favourite from this country and, oh yeah, Star Wars Rebel Alliance all the way. I also cannot resist a war story; I’m a rather odd child who knew Homer’s Iliad before Harry Potter.

So getting your story, complete with Classical allusions and pop culture easter egg-like references that kicked my high-functioning ADHD mind into full-on literary analysis mode was like getting the book I’d never dared to want, because there was no way in heaven, hell, or earth that it could exist.

And I don’t just love your trilogy because you’re a master of your craft and tell a heart-stopping story; or because you created and developed characters so beautifully flawed and tragically human that they transcend the confines of the page; or even because finding all those little allusions and references brings me inexplicable joy. I do love your trilogy for all those things, but I really want to thank you for how thoughtful your books are.

Your books dared to ask a great deal of deep and difficult questions. What happens after revolution? What happens when you gamble and fail? When you lose a battle but must continue the war? How do you deal with grief and rage and hate?

How do you not only live, but live for more?

I got to question and consider the world of your own making and the consequences of every small action, or even the lack of action. And then I got to apply it to my own life — which, in the wake of everything that has happened in 2016, meant an awful lot of thinking and drinking and more thinking.

But there is also a part of the story I didn’t mention, about when I picked up your first book back in 2014…it wasn’t a great time for me. I was going through what can only be described as a complete existential, quarter-life crisis. I’d graduated university without a job in my field, was working full-time at a bookstore which, while not terrible, was not what I wanted. I was just entering treatment for an eating disorder, which would lead to me (finally) getting diagnosed with anxiety and adult ADHD alongside depression, which I knew I’d dealt with since high school. Everyone around me was getting married, buying houses, raving about their dream-jobs and, well, needless to say, I felt very stuck and worthless and useless.

You didn’t really need to know all that, I suppose, but it’s the only context I can offer so that when I say your books were not only what I needed in that moment, but were what helped to spark a little fire to dare, to try, and to at the very least pretend to be brave…I’m not trying to be sycophantic. I may be prone to hyperbole in some things, but I don’t exaggerate when I say that your books had a profound impact upon me — upon my behaviour, my thought processes, philosophies, and just overall personhood. I can look at my short twenty-five years and find that point at twenty-three in late 2014 that denotes the shift of “before Red Rising” and “after Red Rising.

I hadn’t been able to live in peace but I started to find a glimmer of it in Darrow’s war. 

And as if that wasn’t enough, it wasn’t too long after I got diagnosed with Bertolotti’s Syndrome in late 2015 that I got to read Darrow scratching and clawing and working his own way back to recovery in Morning Star…just as I was going through physical therapy so I could go through everyday life with minimal pain or discomfort. It was this strange sort of inspiration, the rationale of “Well Darrow could come back from that, so surely I can grit my teeth and push through whatever’s happening here.” It’s not that I hadn’t thought that way before Morning Star, but something about the visceral way in which you wrote Darrow’s journey put everything happening in my own life into sharp perspective and helped me to hone my focus.

Simply put: your books changed my life.

So, thank you, Pierce Brown. Thank you for crafting this story. Thank you for writing it down and sharing it with all of us. In this all too often dark and terrifying world that sometimes likes to knock us down and basically beat the shit out of us, you gave us a trilogy about a rising tide of sons and daughters whose grit and humanity and glorious hope blazed with such ferocity that they shone brighter than the morning star itself.

And it’s a bloodydamn, gorydamn beautiful thing.

Per aspera ad astra and sincerest thanks,

Madeleine C.

PS. Also, you like Star Wars and puppies, so I should have known that would mean your books were going to be amazing.