Book Review: DARK AGE, War, Politics, and a High Body Count in Red Rising Book 5

Dark Age
Red Rising Book 5

Pierce Brown

The Rising is in shatters, leaving untold dead as the colors clash. Darrow remains above Mercury to defend the planet against the Golds while his closest allies are hundreds of thousands of miles away. Sevro has returned to his family, abandoning the Republic, while Virginia attempts to convince the senate to send troops to help Darrow and the few soldiers he has with him. Yet even her sophisticated spy network cannot identify the network of enemies arrayed against her and her husband. Pax and Electra, daughter of Sevro and Victra, have been kidnapped, and Ephraim, a mercenary-for-hire, represents their only chance for escape.

Meanwhile, Lysander au Lune, grandson of Octavia, the Sovereign disposed by the Rising, has returned to society after ten years in exile determined to bring peace by uniting the warring Gold factions, and to do that, he must defeat Darrow. With the Republic unstable, Sefi the Quiet, Queen of the Obsidians, sees an opportunity to expand her powers on Mars, even though it might mean breaking ties with her previous allies.

Lyria, a red from Mars, and Volga, an Obsidian, accomplices to the kidnapping of Pax and Electra, find themselves entangled with Victra, Electra’s mother. Yet, their importance to the Republic is unknown even to them, and they must decide whether to act in self-preservation or risk sacrificing themselves for the greater good. All alliances are in play, and no one can be trusted as the fate of the Republic and Society turn on the machinations of the world’s power-brokers in front of and behind the scenes.

Dark Age, aptly named, finds the heroes we’ve gotten to know over the past four books in dire straits. Like the other books in the Red Rising series, Dark Age depicts violence graphically, but it seemed more intense in this book to me, perhaps because of my state of mind, perhaps because it truly was relentless with a high body count, or maybe because the page count reached almost 800. There were two truly abhorrent scenes of violence against animals which make sense narratively but which I had to skip.

Like Iron Gold, Dark Age has multiple narrators, and I enjoyed some of the viewpoints more than others, as usually happens with more than one point of view character. The first section of the book, told alternatively from Darrow and Lysander’s perspectives, traces the battle for Mercury. This was the least interesting part of the book to me, unfortunate since it made the beginning a slog. I find that Darrow and Lysander have very similar voices, and their basic conflict has been ongoing for so long, I find it rather dull by this time. Furthermore, I do not like the trajectory of Lysander’s character.

The other narrators, Ephraim, Lyria, and Virginia have more interesting, fresher stories to tell in my opinion, though they do cross pass unexpectedly with characters I’d forgotten about from previous books, plus Lyria and Volga are set up to have critical roles in the next book(s) in the series. Victra, in this installment, becomes much more sympathetic, though remains quite a badass. I enjoy the strong female characters. Since they are written by a man, I do find myself prodding the edges of their characterizations for flaws, but if they are there, they are lost to me in the wave of the narrative, so I’m content to enjoy these strong female characters. Some other women on Mars in the Red Hand or affected by it are more one-dimensional, and there are some very creepy older women/younger men, mother/son sexual dynamics at play in certain relationships.

Given the length of the book, I thought the editors would encourage Brown to cut unnecessary scenes and subplots, but I thought there were some which I won’t mention due to spoilers. Additionally, Darrow and Lysander’s internal monologues are very repetitive. As a result, I’m glad they aren’t the primary focus of Dark Age. Younger characters such as Pax and Electra take more of a role, which is good because the body count in this book is very high.

The general fate of key characters is resolved by the end of the book, but not their next moves, and several questions remain for the sequel which I will no doubt read. I will leave you with one spoiler, though. Sophocles, the fox, survives!