Book Review: Golden Son by Pierce Brown
Genre: Science Fiction, Dystopian
Series: Book 2 of Red Rising Trilogy
Publisher: Del Rey (January 6, 2015)
Mogsy’s Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Tales of courtly politics, noble house squabbles and the machinations of psychopathic lords and ladies have taken the epic fantasy genre by storm in recent years, and it looks like author Pierce Brown has been busy taking notes, adopting these elements for book two of his own futuristic sci-fi dystopian series.
As ever, when the ruling nobility go to war it is the common people who suffer, and it’s really not so different in Brown’s Golden Son. Elite Gold houses embroil themselves in a power struggle with very little thought for the low colors, and at the bottom of the hierarchy are the Reds, miners and laborers literally being kept in the dark below the surface of Mars as they toil away for the glory of the Sovereign. But a new hope has arrived in the form of Darrow, a Red who has overcome much in order to don the guise of the enemy and ultimately arise as the Golden Child. Last we saw him, Darrow had bested the competition in the deadly games at command school, and now he has been taken under the wing of his arch nemesis Nero of House Augustus – just as the rebel Sons of Ares have planned.
Needless to say, the story has exploded beyond the small confines of the Institute. The bloody battles that Darrow faced against his fellow Golds in the war games in book one? Child’s play, compare to all that he has to deal with in this crazy follow-up. But while he may be wholly embedded in Gold society now, Darrow still has games to play. As the rising star of a powerful house, he has also made no shortage of enemies. Saddled with certain expectations, Darrow must do all he can to maintain his cover if he’s to bring down the Society from within its rotten core.
While the first book Red Rising had certain elements in it that made me classify it as Young Adult, Golden Son takes a turn for the much darker, ramping up the violence and mature themes, blurring the lines between YA and Adult and yet managing to transcend both categories at the same time. Once again, Pierce Brown manages to utterly blow me away with his exquisite writing. Subtle and even at times poetic, he can describe something as ugly as war and still make it beautiful, if perturbingly so:
“Roses of a thousand shades fall from the trees as Golds fight beneath them. They’re all red in the end.”
The story takes on a life of its own in this sequel, barreling through one stunning plot development after another. There is seriously very little time to catch your breath. Trust no one, believe nothing. Darrow walks this fine line between deciding to keep his companions at arm’s length versus drawing them close into his inner circle. Perhaps my only real complaint is the inconsistency in his character. For most of the book he is a cunning strategist whose only tool is cold logic, a military genius who seems to read his enemies like an open book. I would question how he gained all this knowledge growing up as a simple laborer in the mines of Mars and would even go as far as to call him a “Gary Stu” if not for the odd inexplicable moments where he just goes and does something downright stupid and unjustified. These decisions often come from his heart, but nonetheless I find it hard to swallow that one moment Darrow can blank out his feelings for the sake of war planning, and the next he can insist on making an emotional decision that he knows may jeopardize years of planning, not to mention snuff out all hope for millions of oppressed.
Still, I enjoy the way his character has grown in the two years since his stint at the Institute. In that time, Darrow has learned that not everything in the world is black and white – or Gold and Red, as it were. Some of the worst and most degenerate people he knows are Golds, but then so are many of his loyal followers as well as the woman he loves. Even if he can succeed in breaking their chains, the low colors might not even accept him as one of their own, not when his own family would probably fail to recognize him. Darrow is in the midst of an identity crisis, knowing that every day he spends as a Gold takes him further away from his life as a Red. It is gut-wrenching to read, knowing all that he has given up and how much more he still has ahead of him.
And of course, speaking of gut-wrenching, there’s that ending. Why must middle books of a series always end with everyone getting the shaft? My poor battered heart can only take so much! Golden Son concludes with a bombshell of a cliffhanger that is blatantly written in a way to drive you nuts, and yet I can’t think of anything else I want to say while I’m down here melting in a puddle of emotions except “Please, Mr. Brown my good man, can you stab me in the heart some more?” I just can’t help it! This book left me more exhausted and stricken than Red Rising, which I can’t claim is an entirely pleasant feeling. But even as it crushes and mangles you, twisting you up like a grungy old mop in a wringer, the story is just so powerful and addicting. Need the third book. Now.
A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Any quotes contained above are from the advance copy and are subject to change. My thanks to Del Rey Books!