Darrow’s second battle-filled adventure is bloodier, braver, and better than his first. Golden Son, in other words, is bloodydamn awesome.
Title: Golden Son
Written by Pierce Brown
Genre: Speculative Fiction, Science Fiction
Publisher: Del Rey
Publication Date: January 2015
Hardcover: 464 pages
With shades of The Hunger Games, Ender’s Game, and Game of Thrones, debut author Pierce Brown’s genre-defying epic Red Rising hit the ground running and wasted no time becoming a sensation.
Golden Son continues the stunning saga of Darrow, a rebel forged by tragedy, battling to lead his oppressed people to freedom from the overlords of a brutal elitist future built on lies. Now fully embedded among the Gold ruling class, Darrow continues his work to bring down Society from within.
A life-or-death tale of vengeance with an unforgettable hero at its heart, Golden Son guarantees Pierce Brown’s continuing status as one of fiction’s most exciting new voices.
Stand alone or series: Book 2 in the Red Rising Trilogy
How did I get this book: Bought
Format (e- or p-): Ebook
Why did I read this book: While I had conflicted feels about Red Rising, I ultimately loved the book so much that it made my top 10 of 2014. OF COURSE I was going to read Golden Son to see what happened next.
**WARNING: This review contains mild unavoidable spoilers for Red Rising. If you have not read book 1 and wish to remain unspoiled, LOOK AWAY.**
Darrow au Andromedus has done the impossible. Following the murder of his wife Eo, Darrow has become a rebel with the Sons of Ares, rising from the lowest of the low to one of the brightest members of the ruling caste – a Red helldiver of the dark mines of Mars, now carved into an elite Gold god. Ascending through the ranks of other Gold scions at the Academy, Darrow earns the nickname of Reaper and finishes his brutal war education at the top of his class. His infamy as Reaper and performance at the Academy also earns the patronage of his greatest enemy (and murderer of his wife), the ArchGovernor of Mars, Nero au Augustus.
It is here that Golden Son begins its tale: an older, tested Darrow does all within his power to continue to excel as a rising Gold within the powerful house of Augustus. Unfortunately, the strategic world of aristocracy, power machinations, and political intrigue does not come as naturally to Darrow as does cunning in battle. And, after making a few mistakes in battle and a few very powerful enemies, the Reaper is decidedly out of his depth.
With the Gold Sovereign and her loyalist families hungry for his blood, Darrow must tread carefully to discern friend from foe – an error in trust could bring everything he’s worked for crashing down. Most importantly, Darrow must embrace his own truth, what he is willing to sacrifice in order to destroy system that has enslaved his people, the lower Colors, for centuries – to truly break the chains.
Let him think he owns me. Let him welcome me into his house, so I might burn it down.
The second book in the Red Rising Trilogy by Pierce Brown, Golden Son is the rare middle novel that is even better than its successor. Make no mistake, friends – Golden Son is fantastic. In fact, it’s bloodydamn awesome. And here’s why: this second novel is an action-packed, high stakes saga of loyalty and honor, sacrifice and rebellion. Golden Son is also set on a much grander scale than its predecessor in all respects, from writing style to characterization, to its full scope of action and dreadful consequence. Not only does the book make the leap from controlled battle royale amongst school children to full-out intergalactic war, but it also means a fight for the future of everything. See, Darrow’s internal struggle is not just one of a single man, or even that of a single tribe of Reds or a powerful Gold family; his choices mean the future of the revolution, and the fate of every human soul scattered across the solar system. (Though I am loath to make the comparison for the usual hype reasons, it is not unlike the jump in scale from, say, The Hunger Games to Catching Fire and Mockingjay – from game, to bloody, full-scale war and revolution.)
One of the biggest triumphs of Golden Son is that it transcends the issues of its parent text (which was not without its significant problems). My issues with Red Rising were threefold: Darrow’s exceptionalism as a hero, his passiveness, and the treatment of female characters (especially in relation to Darrow). Happily, Golden Son not only addresses these issues head-on, but masterfully tears down each of these problematic elements.
It’s not victory that makes a man. It’s his defeats.
For the first time in the series, Darrow faces failure in Golden Son. Not just any failure, but utter and complete failure: as an Augustus, as a son of Ares, as the avenger of the Reds and of his lost wife, Eo. The book begins with epic failure, in fact, as the afeared Reaper loses to the Bellona family and seemingly seals his fate as a liability for the Augustus clan. In the face of this unforgivable defeat and his inevitable death at the hand of his political enemies, Darrow finally makes the decision to join the rebellion in earnest. Instead of reacting to the situation or the gifts of others, Darrow forms his own plan in Golden Son – and the results are, if you’ll pardon the expletive, fucking awesome. For the first time, Darrow chooses to let other people in. For the first time, Darrow chooses to embrace his role as Reaper and accepts that the rebellion is larger than him, or his desires, or any other single person’s wishes. For the first true time, Darrow understands the meaning of Eo’s song.
And, while we’re speaking of fucking awesome things, let’s talk about female characters for a second. I love every single one of the female characters in Golden Son – from the coldly calculating Sovereign Octavia au Lune and the withered matriarch of the Bellona, to the defiantly slick Victra, and the brilliant and impassioned Mustang. Oh, Mustang. How much do I love you? Every single female character in this novel is given their own agency as individuals, and every single female character survives outside of the paradigm of being saved by Darrow (or some other male figure). Mustang, moreso than any other character, as she refuses to be categorized by Darrow’s incessant hero complex, or viewed as a whore by her family’s advisors, or a pawn to be cast off by her father. Like the many other characters in this text, the females are complex, flawed, fully-realized creatures – and I appreciate that development in the series very much.
“Protect the ArchGovernor!” Mustang shouts at me, voice more composed than my own, making me feel an idiot obsessed with chivalry. Of course she does not need me to save her.
Beyond rectifying the flaws of its preceding volume, Golden Son stands on its own in several ways. It examines the different colors already revealed in Red Rising, but in greater detail. There is more mention of Pinks and their upbringing, for example, in a particularly horrific offhanded comment about “cupid’s kiss” and how these children are bred to be the pleasure slaves of Golds. There is similar examination of stratification within the Golds themselves, particularly when Sevro’s story is revealed in full. Pierce Brown also expands the world by focusing on key characters of other colors – the best and most nuanced examples being the docker ship captain Orion and the discrimination among her fellow scientific pilot Blues, or the Obsidian and Stained servant Ragnar, bred to believe that the Golds are actual gods capable of doling out divine punishment. The corruption and utter brokenness of Darrow’s universe becomes ever more apparent here, defining his mission and giving the rebellion of Ares a much greater significance.
Friendships take minutes to make, moments to break, years to repair.
Golden Son also achieves thematic depth, by provoking powerful questions through Darrow’s narrative. What does it mean to be free, and who makes those decisions? Who should be in charge, and who should be enslaved? Who can be trusted, if anyone at all? This last question, more than any other, is the driving inquiry at the heart of Golden Son. The concepts of “trust” and “loyalty” are put to the hardest test here, as Darrow demands the ultimate price from his dear friends, the Howlers, from his Academy days. There’s a sense of loss and inevitability to this bridge book; we know from the outset that certain characters should not be trusted, that a broken friendship could mean the end of everything for Darrow and his cause. Among my favorite relationships explored in this novel are the ties, some tenuous while others unbreakable, between Darrow and his cherished Sevro, the wary Mustang, the cunning Jackal, the bitter Roque.
Ultimately, perhaps Darrow is too trusting – he lets people in during Golden Son, and there will be consequences. There will be blood for his actions – case in point, the very last scene of the book, in which everything GOES TO BLOODYDAMN HELL and a cliffhanger ensues.
“And what is the bloodydamn point of surviving in this cold world if I run from the only warmth it has to offer?”
By the end of this book, so many pieces are in motion that it’s hard to see the overall picture or planned end game. Like Darrow, we readers are breathlessly trying to keep pace, to understand the players on the board and protect against obliteration and failure.
I, for one, cannot wait to see what Pierce Brown puts into action next.
Golden Son is the best book I’ve read so far in 2015, and I cannot recommend it, or Darrow, enough. Absolutely in the running for my top 10 books of 2015, and I cannot wait until Morning Star… it’s going to be a long wait until next January.
Notable Quotes/Parts: You can read an excerpt of the first 80 pages online HERE.
Rating: 8 – Excellent; and as of right now, a top 10 book of 2015
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