To be fair to Mr. Brown, I find it hard to fairly rate second books in a trilogy. They have to both be the middle part of what is essentially one large story split into 3 books (or pdfs or epubs) and also as a standalone book have a beginning, climax, and resolution. So this tends to leave them a little unfulfilling. I’ve noticed (and mentioned in a few reviews) that with most modern trilogies the first book is more of a complete book in order to get the reader hooked into the series. The second one seems to be disappointing because it can’t resolve anything or else there wouldn’t need to be a third book. So this book might have a lower rating than I would rate the trilogy as a whole.
That said, it’s been at least 2 years (if not 3) since I listened to the audiobook of Red Rising. So I’d lost a lot of the meaning of the relationships between the characters. And that’s KEY to this book. Really, to the series as a whole. Darrow is a man with no home. He’s playing the politics/civil war game which means he doesn’t know who he can trust. There are people in every aspect of his life who are lying to him and/or spying against him. And, as with any sufficiently complex spy narrative, there are double agents everywhere. So his agonizing over who to trust and who to keep at arms’ length is the core of this book. This is, of course, the problem with a serialized story. Some would have gone back to the first book, but I’ve got 273 books on my To-Read list. I don’t have time for that.
That said, this was a good book. While 3/5 is slightly better than the middle (2.5), the hover-text for 3 stars on Goodreads does say “I liked it”. And that’s true – I did. Brown does a good job furthering Darrow’s story and continuing to complicate matters for him. And the ending of this book finds a way to both be predictable and a complete shock at the exact same time. (Although there’s some phrasing that tips you off right at the end – instead of describing a box as containing something, it says it’s big enough to contain it. And that was strange enough that I got it)
While my favorite thing about SF is learning all the ancillary details of the universe and how it works, I definitely enjoy Brown refraining from info-dumps. Instead you gain a huge insight into how the Golds control the Reds during a paragraph in which someone is describing how they would get the Reds to be more productive.
In fact, I came to a realization while reading the chapter on the Reds. Unlike many other dytopias I’ve read (eg The Hunger Games or The Girl with All the Gifts), the mining Reds don’t actually know they’re living a dystopic life. They know things are tough and so on, but it’s for a supposed purpose. Brown confirmed this realization when he has someone tell Darrow the same thing a few paragraphs later. And this puts Darrow in an interesting situation. In The Hunger Games Katniss knew she had the support of the disenfranchised in the districts. But in the Red Rising trilogy, Darrow does not really have any popular support for his TRUE cause. He has support from Golds for his military prowess. He has support from lowColors and Reformers for tweaking things and perhaps reducing the burden on lowColors. But no one outside the Sons of Ares knows his true purpose.
We’ll see where it all goes with Morning Star.