Book 5 of the Ex-Heroes series sees Peter Clines return the series to something a bit more traditional than the last book. In fact, if this was a TV series this book would be considered a filler episode with only some minor character development going on. The larger story arc doesn't move forward all that much but since all your favorite characters from the series return it is still quite enjoyable. Book 4 was weird enough that fans of the series like me will find that a nice solid "back to reality" story really hits the spot.
As this series has gone on I have found myself more and more invested in it. Red Rising was good but I felt that it contained a few standard YA tropes that forced me to keep my distance. Golden Son was better but as the middle story of the trilogy it was a bridge that went nowhere ending with a cliffhanger. That left Morning Star with a built in obligation to build upon the unfinished foundation laid before it and it does not fail to deliver. For me it was the best book of the series.
At the end of book one, Red Rising, Darrow's brutal experience at the Institute concluded with him firmly embedded in Gold society. Darrow, a lowly Red hidden with the ranks of Gold, was required to choose a patron to sponsor his future and he chose to become a Lancer for House Augustus. This means he now works for the ArchGoverner - the man who killed his wife. He did this in order to be close to his hated enemy as well as to be able to attend the Academy, where Gold prodigees learn starship fleet command. As a member of House Augustus, Darrow finds that life among the Peerless Scarred is not as straight forward as he hoped. It is often hard to tell the difference between his allies and his enemies which leaves Darrow pretty confused as to the best way to move forward with his hidden agenda.
A red burst in the sky known as Calamity suddenly knocks human society into a post-apocalyptic world ruled by evil super villains known as Epics. The series kicks off in the city of Newcago (formerly Chicago) where an Epic known as Steelheart has ruthlessly established his dominion over the inhabitants of the city, both humans and lesser Epics alike. Everyone knows that Steelheart is invincible and even the Reckoners, a group of humans rumored to hunt and kill Epics, won't mess with him. However, young David Charleston has a secret that he has kept hidden for the last 10 years. On that fateful day many years ago when Steelheart killed David's father he witnessed something that no other living person has ever seen - he saw Steelheart bleed!
Ark Royal and her crew are the laughing stocks of the Royal Space Navy. The old lady is 70 years old now and more museum than active carrier as she remains parked in orbit around Earth full time. Her systems are out of date and her crew cobbles together whatever leftovers they can to keep her barely functional. She has also become the dumping ground for Royal Navy personnel that have screwed up elsewhere, so her crew lacks motivation. All of that changes in an instant when an unknown alien race arrives and cuts through the modern ships in the human Space Navies like a hot knife through butter leaving Ark Royal as a last line of defense.
It is 3000 years after the events that take place in Ender's Game and Ender Wiggin is alive and well, as is his sister Valentine. Having spent the majority of their adulthood travelling through space, relativity allows them both to be only in their 30s age-wise and yet they have both witnessed the progression of mankind for over 3000 years due to Ansible communications technology which allows for instantaneous communication across the vast distances of space.
Twice before the human race has faced extinction at the hands of the Buggers, an alien race that ruthlessly attacks without communicating in any way, and many feel the 3rd war is imminent. It is within this context that we learn about the battle school set up by the International Fleet (IF) to train earth's most promising children to become commanders of the human fleet. Only a prodigy trained from birth in the art of war will be able to resist our deadly enemy and with the 3rd war almost upon us, humanity is running out of time. The powers that be will cut any corner and take any risk they deem necessary to get ready, because if they fail there will be no humans left to condemn their actions as immoral.
Neal Stephenson takes a variety of different ideas and seemingly random subjects and does his best to weave them together into a coherent tale. These subjects include ancient Sumer, religious history, linguistics, virtual reality, viruses, sword fighting, and hacking, amongst others. They are all rolled into a story set in a bizarre future where the United States as we know it is no more and our current culture has been taken to absurd, and often entertaining, extremes. The US has become best known for its ability to deliver pizzas efficiently, the federal government has ceded much of the land to corporations/franchises, and couriers ride futuristic skateboards using magnetic harpoons to attach to vehicles on the freeway for a free lift.
Humans have spread throughout the solar system which is ruled by the System government based on Earth. Ananke is a super secret System ship out on a trial run with a crew of three. Althea is the programmer primarily responsible for Ananke's unique computer software. She has a far greater attachment to the computer and Ananke than to her fellow crew mates. On their way to Pluto two intruders board the ship. One escapes and dumps a virus into the programming to frustrate their attempts to trace him. The other, Ivan, is held for questioning about their ties to a rebel terrorist Mallt-y-Nos.
Pierce Brown creates a dystopian future where mankind has populated the solar system and created a hierarchical caste system of colors. Strict rules and roles are assigned to each color, some of which are: Reds who provide the manual labor, Pinks who master the arts of pleasure, Blues who pilot the starships, Obsidians who fight the wars, Silvers who run the businesses, and Golds who rule society. Darrow is born into this society at the bottom of the totem pole as a Red who works in the mines of Mars. As a Helldiver he risks his life manning a drill in the dangerous helium-3 mines but he accepts his role without question. He knows that mankind has ruined the Earth and helium-3 is needed to terraform Mars to provide humanity with a new home. He is proud of his work and understands that the Reds are sacrificing themselves to save humanity. There is only one problem - it is all a lie....