I started my adventure with the Red Rising books last year because both Red Rising and Golden Son had received enthusiastic reviews from Alexis, scootsa1000, and narfna. Red Rising also checked off a box for me in the 2015 Read Harder challenge, as Brown wrote the book before he was 25. With the third and final book in the series being published next month, I figured it was time to get my act together and read Golden Son in order to be ready.
I have A LOT of thoughts about the second half of this book (as Ale and crystalclear can attest to since I’ve been yammering at them over the past few days. But, in order to talk about that stuff, let’s get some boilerplate out of the way. Here’s a synopsis from Goodreads (which leaves plenty vague for those of you who have yet to read either book):
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.”
Now that we have that out of the way, the front half of Golden Son is setting up what occurred in the two years between the end of Red Rising and the beginning of this book. Darrow and the rest of those we met in the first book, and who survived it, are now part of the larger society of the Golds and are the Peerless Scarred (because of the literal scars on their bodies following the Institute). We find Darrow at low ebb of his social climb, and goal of infiltrating the Golds on the orders of Ares, a terrorist of sorts hell bent on bringing down the brutal rule of the Golds and making all classes (or more accurately, colors) equal after hundreds of years of striation.
The plot advances along at a normal pace, and then about halfway through literally all hell breaks loose and Brown just pushes more plot into 250 pages than I remember seeing in QUITE a long time (and I just read Outlander). And it’s good. But it’s also a bit of a slog. More people are brought into Darrow’s inner circle, more friends are sacrificed in any number of battles (Brown is up there with GRRM in the killing of your darlings) that rage as Darrow orchestrates ever increasing battles and wars with the goal of ultimate civil war, and we watch a character struggle with the fact that he must become what he wishes to break down if he is going to succeed at all.
But this is also the book where I was able to pinpoint why I had not gotten into sci-fi in the past. Its not the science, I love the science. I also love the speculation based on history (which Brown excels at). It’s the battle minutia which seems to be an ever present part of many series. I really, honestly and truly, don’t care about what type of gun/ship/weapon/what have you is going to be deployed against your enemy du jour and I certainly don’t need 5 pages describing to me in detail the ship/pod/doohickey that you are going to be using. In his Acknowledgements Brown alludes to his inspiration – Tolkien. Yes, I see it. And once I saw it, I couldn’t unsee it. I have always felt that Tolkien overwrote his books, and Brown is guilty of the same. I can see his working of craft in the writing. It’s plain as day, and I wish it were a little more nuanced, a little less IN MY FACE.
But there is also so much that Brown gets right in these books. His focus on the machinations of politics and society, the true meanings and cost of love, loyalty, and friendship all build to a crescendo and then if this were a piece of music the final chapter would have a loud crash cymbal and then silence. Because those final pages are where Brown won me back, and this book went from being a very good 3.5 to a solid 4 star book. While there was A LOT of foreshadowing that left very few surprises in a chapter which resets EVERYTHING, Brown placed the reader in a place of not knowing what the next book could possibly bring. There are some things which are laid out, but we do not know how the chips will fall, at least not completely.
TEAM SEVRO FOREVER.