Hodder, out now
Darrow has survived training – but now he’s playing on a much wider field, pitting himself against people who are considerably more seasoned in the game of politics and murder…
The hard-edged dystopia that Pierce Brown created for the first book in this trilogy is put in a new perspective in this volume, which sees the genetically-changed former Red now in a position where he’s spending time with those who genuinely wield power in his society. Although there’s a sequence at the start which will no doubt start the movie version off with a bang, it’s only once the political machinations get underway that the book really starts to grip.
Many of those Darrow encounters embody the different deadly sins – and he himself isn’t immune to their enticements, much as he may (as the book’s narrator) try to persuade himself, and us, that he isn’t. Towards the end, there’s an echo of the slave whose job it was to remind Caesar that he was mortal, but you have to wonder if it’s too little too late – Darrow blinds himself to the faults of those around him because he is as blinded by his goals as they are by the rules of their society, and he fails to realise exactly what is going on around him.
Brown gives us some new characters, in particular Ragnar, who embodies in many ways what Darrow is trying to achieve, as well as the obstacles that he faces. The action sequences are well-described, and Brown ensures that we are clear as to which alliances Darrow is making genuinely, and which are purely short term – sometimes in such a way that we understand even if his protagonist doesn’t.
Almost inevitably, this ends on a cliffhanger, which shifts the pieces on the board yet one more time – and although I have a feeling I know how Darrow’s story must end, I’m looking forward to the conclusion to see the path he takes.
Verdict: A convoluted but often gripping political space opera. 7/10