When you finish a book completely speechless and wondering how you got so lucky to be able to read such a story, then you’re probably where I was at when I finished reading Dark Age.
Dark Age is the fifth book in the science fiction dystopian adventure saga that is called Red Rising. Written by Pierce Brown, the story navigates through the tumultuous life of Darrow of Lykos as he rises from the depths of Mars to conquer and destroy the stronghold of the government that is the Society. That was the culmination of the first three books.
(Warning: this is NOT a Young Adult dystopian series, this is a very adult science-fiction novel with lots of graphic violence and suggestive language, which I will not point out in this review, but is there.)
But what happens after that goal is achieved? How do the people respond when so much has changed, when people who thought they were free now find themselves imprisoned in poverty and destitution?
We see this in Iron Gold, which takes place 10 years later, and now with Dark Age, which takes place about two weeks after the previous book. Where Pierce Brown intricately weaves in a steady pace the introduction of new and old characters and their situations, the current unrest of the people and the Free Legions under the New Republic, and new threats brewing about, Brown basically rams you through Dark Age as if you were in a Mech Suit violently launched from an escape pod to crash through your enemy’s ship. Okay, that’s specific, but hopefully you understand what I mean.
For the most part, Dark Age is as the title indicates – a dark age. War has already begun, but Brown now brings us into the forefront, without preamble (if anything, Iron Gold was the preamble,) and without much hesitation. Told from five points of view, as now we have Virginia au Augustus’s take on the political/governmental side of things, the 700-plus behemoth of a book goes from one dynamic action scene to another, with stimulating dialogue to boot, barely allowing any time to breathe. And when you do take a breath, it may very well be a gasp, followed by an “Oh, no!” or a myriad of other colorful phrases to express your shock, frustration, anger, or sadness.
The fact that Pierce Brown is relentless in causing the reader pain only goes to show how dedicated and passionate he is in creating his story just right in what we know of the Red Rising universe. This is not Hogwarts, people. Far from it. You don’t want to live here, even if you’re a Gold. No one is safe, and that’s the reality of this dystopian world, because even after all the good that the original trilogy ended with, he shows you that there’s still a lot of bad out there, and he does so in such a gloriously damning way.
The characters who you thought were infallible are most definitely fallible, in more ways than one. Brown creates such characters with so many layers, you find things to love about them, but then you find things you really are loathe or are disappointed about them. The characters you loathe the most become nothing compared to the ones that come after. The ones you thought harmless become ones that will destroy the people you care about. Brown creates the realistic type of people that make you actually feel something, whether it be joy, anger, despair, shock, or any other emoticons that you can think of. The fact that the book is war in its various iterations doesn’t denote the impact it has on your emotions. You feel for these characters much more than you should, because Brown is brilliant in how he interprets their thoughts, how he delves thoroughly in wordporn to give us the perfect emotions of his characters.
As for the story itself, as he’s done in his previous books, he weaves in hints of what’s to come next either later in the book, or possibly even in upcoming books. When we get to those points, those shocking moments, those surprising scenes, it’s no surprise that “WTF” always comes up for almost every reader. Brown seems to have perfected the art of traumatization amongst his readers, and yet, we embrace it, or at least most of the time. Some of us do have our limits on welcomed shock value, but we continue on because we know that Pierce has a purpose for it all. Whether or not that purpose drives the story as much as it should is subjective.
Dark Age is both amazingly cerebral and wonderfully affectional. Brown found the right characters to narrate the story in its various locations, and he did so with style. One thing about this story is how much of it is a social commentary on our current times. That’s what makes his books so relatable without having to be direct. As a reader and a writer, Brown had earned my respect from day one, and has elevated it with Dark Age.
Side note: It’s been about three weeks since I’ve finished the book. It took me this long to feel like I was ready to write about it, and I still find this review inadequate to how phenomenal, magnificent, mind-blowing, and all the other accolades, it was. I don’t read books more than once often, but I do plan to do so with this one.