I have always been fond of a series.
Maybe it’s my desire to see the story continue, to have my favorite characters face new challenges, or the room for growth that’s created when multiple volumes are on the table. It most certainly began with Harry Potter. The series released as I entered middle school. Back then I read, here and there, but was far from a bookworm. J.K. Rowling changed that. She wrote a story with a clear end, but one that also led to a clear beginning. I wanted to know what would happen next year in the lives of Harry and Hermione and Ron.
What else would we learn? How would Voldemort return? How would our heroes respond?
I read many books between The Deathly Hallows and A Game of Thrones, but an unmistakable bridge connected those readings. Here, again, I was faced with a compelling story, relentlessly fascinating characters, a world that evolved through each new volume.
I followed my reading of Martin with a number of other series: Rothfuss, Erikson, Jordan, Abercrombie, Stiefvater, Sanderson, Novik, etc. but none of them reached the level of Martin or Rowling for me. They did not fundamentally change my understanding and love of speculative fiction. Rowling was the cornerstone, Martin a rising into adulthood and a master of form. The other reads acted as additives. Little touches of color to the love I’d spent years building up.
Erikson taught me about convergence. Rothfuss instructed me on the juxtaposition of wild beauty with unmitigated disaster. Novik brought relational connection to the page with such vibrancy that I went back to revisions right after finishing her first story. Jordan demanded a new appreciation of scope. Sanderson pressed against ideas of mimicry, forcing a fullness of imagination to the page. Stiefvater captured the authenticity of a circle of friends. Abercrombie put the blade to your throat and demanded blood.
All invaluable to my writing and reading, but none quite so powerful that I could add them to that top tier. So it is not lightly that I place Pierce Brown’s name on a tier which has only ever known Martin and Rowling. For me, the series echoes into my appreciation of the genre, has directed change into my personal writing style, and has demanded a new dynamism in storytelling. As such, it demands placement with the two other series that so impacted me as a reader, writer, and human being.
On its surface, the Red Rising trilogy is absolutely a product of the genre from which it was born. The colored caste system is unremarkable. The datapads and razors and ripWings echo a hundred other works with a hundred other clever names for their futuristic toys. Darrow is not unlike Katniss or Ender or any number of rebellious protagonists that come before him. His enemies bring him war. He is transformed into a weapon. And he fights back against his oppressors to their bloody end. We know this story, and have for some time.
And yet… this trilogy delivers what others have not.
Every fight scene is written with such momentous force that one can hold the style and execution up against Abercrombie’s every unleashing of Logen Ninefingers and say, “Yes, this scene goes toe to toe with one of the best writers of action.”
In the relationship between Sevro and Darrow, we see all the remarkable balance and emotional awareness that’s on display between Temereraire and Captain William Lawrence, Icarus and Mappo, Rand and Mat and Perrin. We are drawn in to the sort of friendship and dependability that we wish for in our own lives, with our own friends.
All the romantic movement in Stiefvater’s Raven Boys series, or in Kvothe’s frustrating dance with Denna, can be found in Brown’s work as well. We see the strange orbits of Mustang and Darrow, and are witness to that magical way in which authors thread real, actual love into their fiction.
And though Brown limits us entirely to Darrow’s perspective, we somehow experience a sprawling universe that would have made Robert Jordan proud. Like any great work of speculative fiction, there’s a constant sense of worlds within worlds within worlds.
In short, Brown has taken all the shades and quirks I’ve loved in my reading of speculative fiction and he has flaunted them across three, unforgettable books. As thousands flock to finish this tremendous series, I find myself setting the third volume back on the shelf, right next to where I’ve kept the worn volumes of Golden Son and Red Rising.
They have earned their place on the top shelf, right next to Rowling and Martin, and like any formidable series, Pierce Brown’s trilogy has me wondering which author and what books, will be placed beside them.