“Rose petals of a thousand shades fall from the trees as the Golds fight beneath them. They’re all red in the end.”
Pierce Brown is fast turning out to be my favorite author – with this book, he gorydamn comes close. To unseating all those Gods I thought I had firmly set in their pantheons of Fantasy/Science Fiction inside my mind.
Red Rising was spectacular mind blowing stuff. The thought that a debut author would be giving us such an accomplished mind-bending piece of work was exhilarating and spoke well for the future of this genre. But with this second book, Pierce Brown has clearly proved himself beyond an iota of doubt. He has set his own benchmarks soaring. To the outer expanse of his faux-greek sci-fi planetary system where he clearly enjoys breaking the readers’ hearts. It’s a bigger bolder accomplishment over Red Rising in all ways. Darrow – the conflicted 16-year old has matured into a twenty-year old now. Having infiltrated the ranks of his wife’s killers – now a Gold, a Peerless Scarred nonetheless; Golden Son follows his unstoppable rise to the top echelons of this brutal society. A book with bigger ambitions, Pierce Brown drives his plot like a Helldiver driving his drill through the mine-walls of underground Mars. Relentless and furious. The story unfolds on a much bigger canvas – going beyond the walls of the cruel “institute” where Darrow had once to prove his own worth to the Gold Masters.
In this, the proverbial son has arrived. And in his wake, lies the blood and bones of millions. Literally, the body count in Golden Son is staggering. And among these are some names we have come to love and respect. So with a finesse almost matching GRRM in creating empathetic characters and then finding a million gory bloody ways of killing them off – Brown baptizes Darrow as the Golden Son - bathed in red. Brown gets his rocks off by creating this whole space-politico intrigue that builds and keeps on building up with the tension of civil war looming large over the Gold society. Action – some scintillating space-war !! epic squee!! – seems natural and unlike the first book, where teenagers killed other teenagers in cruel meaningless manner, this book takes on the darker brooding atmosphere of an imminent civil war. Court intrigue plagues the narrative as factions choose sides with Darrow plunging the society into chaos.
There are tons of questions on morals and ethics. The right or wrong of it. Of Darrow’s actions and the wide-spread consequences.
“And I thought the Golds were broken. We’re all just wounded souls stumbling about in the dark, desperately trying to stitch ourselves together, hoping to fill the holes they ripped in us. Eo kept me from this end. I’d be like them. Lost.”
A lot of soul searching into the dense fog of darkness that encompasses our young hero’s mind. He is troubled by the body count – yes – but ultimately resigns himself to the maxim that the end probably justifies the means.
So does he turn into a terrorist himself? Do we get to meet the mysterious Ares? What happens to the conflicted romance that was gently blossoming between Darrow and Mustang? Does Darrow start a civil war? What ever happened to the Jackal? And does Darrow make good with Servo as a friend?
If these questions took away your sleep for a year – after Red Rising – then rest easy. Brown wades through all this and makes the muck even more murkier with the ending. We come out of book II even more troubled at the startling turn of events. Heart breaking. Troubling and traumatizing in equal measure. Brown takes his time to burn through enough material to start another trilogy in this one sequel – what that means for you as reader is that we get more character development, tons of frenetic action and a plot that moves faster than a pitviper striking for your throat.
There is still a lot of pontification on the class hierarchy. We get to see more of the other colors. Obsidians and their rebellion that was put down years ago that led to their staunch hard beliefs. Blues and their technology geekery. And more. It’s all interesting stuff but what really makes Brown’s writing shine is his in-depth characterization.
Earlier the ride was a lonely one for young troubled Darrow. Self righteous to a fault, the talented Red who makes Primus in book-one is now flanked by friends – Golds who would die for him. There is Mustang – the girl whom Darrow pines for, every bit as brilliant as he is. Of course there is Servo and his Howlers. He is one of my favorite characters in this book. Read the book only for him. And then there are the new guys – Victra, Ragnar, Tactus, Lorn the retired Rage Knight and a bunch more of solidly realized well drawn out characters all of whom make the second installment fantastic.
If Red Rising was Brown’s bold new announcement of his arrival into this crowded SFF world, then Golden Son is clearly the crowning ceremony. It is rare that a sequel builds on and exceeds the strengths of a fantastic first book. With Golden Son, Pierce Brown does exactly that. And in an utterly convincing and unbeatable manner. It's like a new-age Star Wars story filled with insanely genius psychopaths going crazy back-stabbing and gutting each other. Space-sprawling bad-assery on a scale never-done-before and done so stunningly right that now the third book in this series is a one to die for. Or Kill for.