Golden Son (Red Rising Trilogy #2) by Pierce Brown
Genre: Adult science fiction
Publisher: Del Rey
Release date: January 6 2015
Source: ARC from publisher
The nitty-gritty: Bigger, bloodier, and bolder, Golden Son lives up to its predecessor in spades.
To my left and right, the falling soldiers look like raging lightning bugs jerked out of some Carver’s fantasy. I admire the one to my left. The bronze sun is behind him as he falls, silhouetting him, immortalizing him in that singular moment—one I know I shall never forget—so that he looks like a Miltonian angel falling with wrath and glory. His exoskeleton sheds its friction armor, as Lucifer might have shed the fetters of heaven, feathers of flame peeling off, fluttering behind. Then a missile slashes the sky and high-grade explosives christen him mortal once again.
**Mild spoilers ahead, only for those who haven’t read Red Rising.
Pierce Brown has done it again. After blowing me away with his debut, Red Rising, he’s brought back his larger-than-life, over-the-top characters and put them in even more danger and horrible situations, and still somehow managed to bring moments of quiet and beauty to his story. Golden Son was a non-stop rocket ship ride through space (literally!) that paused only long enough for our characters to recover from their wounds. If you are the type of reader who loves military fiction, then you will most likely love this series. Strangely, I am not that kind of reader, and yet Brown’s books work splendidly for me. If it’s even possible, Golden Son delves even further into the violence and depravity of the human heart than Red Rising did. There’s a lot of killing in this book, and not all of it makes sense. (In fact, I would have to say most of it doesn’t, just like war.)
What Pierce Brown does to reel me in, though, is this: he fills his story with beautiful writing; lets his characters see past the blood and destruction to the beauty that lies underneath it all; and gives them something to believe in, a reason behind all the fighting and killing. He also gives us lovely relationships between the characters and makes them more than just killing machines. (Because honestly, sometimes that’s how I thought of Darrow and his friends.) Much of the tension in the story lies in the things that are not said between characters: meaningful glances, tacit understands, and dawning realizations. These relationships are subtle and complex and ever-changing, and they are the reason I love this series.
I don’t want to spoil the story by talking too much about the plot, but I will set up the premise of Golden Son. Several years after the ending of Red Rising, Darrow has been taken in by Augustus, the man who killed his wife, and the man Darrow has sworn to defeat. But politics are complicated in this very dense story, and after several betrayals, Darrow’s mission becomes clear: to bring down the Sovereign, the woman who rules over the solar system, who keeps the Reds down in the muck as the lowest of the Colors. Darrow, who was born a Red but changed into a Gold in order to infiltrate and defeat them from the inside, gathers his most trusted friends from the Institute and forms a plan that will ultimately free all the other colors from servitude.
But things are not always as they seem. Friends become enemies, enemies become friends, alliances are made and broken, and only one thing is certain: you never know who to trust. And in order to be truly free, Darrow is going to have to start a war.
This is one of those stories where I can honestly say I never knew what was coming. Brown knows how to convince the reader that the story is going in a certain direction, and then he blithely pulls the rug out from under you. Just when you come to love a character, someone who seems to be allied with Darrow and his mission, that character either switches sides or proves to have never been on Darrow’s side at all! The result of this was that I became wary every time a character seemed worthy enough to be deemed a “good guy,” and so I found my expectations shifting.
One big difference this time around was the setting. Where Red Rising takes place mainly in a fairly small area, Golden Son expands into space. This book had much more of a science fiction feel to it, which I loved. Brown’s combination of futuristic weapons and space ships alongside characters whose dialog felt very much medieval at times, was an odd but strangely appealing contrast. My favorite weapon was the razor, a lethal sword-like contraption that is both flexible and rigid, depending on how you use it. I think more blood was spilled by razors than by all other weapons combined!
Some new characters make an appearance, and old ones return. One of my favorites was Ragnar, a “Stained” Obsidian who pledges to stand by Darrow no matter what. He was such a huge brute of a guy, and even Darrow was afraid of him at times, but I loved his steadfast loyalty. Darrow’s sort-of love interest Mustang returns, and I adored her in this book. Mustang has got to be one of my all-time favorite female characters. She’s brave, strong, loyal, and a really good liar. Plus she doesn’t take shit from Darrow or anyone else, which I appreciated.
The Howlers were some of my favorite characters in Red Rising, and they come back just in the nick of time to rescue Darrow from one of his many close calls. They reminded me of Robin Hood’s band of Merry Men, although I’ll say this for the Howlers (and all the other characters in Golden Son): don’t get too attached, because just like Game of Thrones, you never know who is going to get the ax next.
Brown throws in some humorous moments between characters, but they are few and far between. This is mostly a serious book about war and its consequences and how war changes relationships. In Golden Son, war is a solitary thing, no matter how big your army. As Darrow says to his comrades right before the final battle, “I’ll see you on the other side.”
Oh, and did I mention the huge, shocking cliff-hanger? Oh just kill me now, Pierce!! When did you say Morning Star (Book Three) is coming out?
Huge thanks to Del Rey for supplying a review copy! Above quote was taken from an uncorrected proof and may differ in the final version of the book.
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