The Red Rising series continues to be incredibly compelling and well-written, though I admit that I was concerned about Iron Gold. I had read that extending beyond the original trilogy wasn’t part of Pierce Brown’s original plan, so I wasn’t sure if this was going to be a reflection of an author caught in the vortex of a world they’d created, but lacking the clear vision of the first phase of books.
What became clear was that the story beginning with Iron Gold IS going to be messier than the arc of the original trilogy, but that’s a natural consequence of where we left the world at the end of Morning Star. Darrow’s Uprising was not bloodless, and the transition of power was not going to be seamless. War left the planets broken, and society was not fixed in a day. So Iron Gold takes a broader look outside of Darrow’s personal journey and is unflinching in its portrayal of his blind spots and failures. Set 10 years after the end of Morning Star, Darrow is not entirely unsympathetic, but he has become singularly focused on his role as a general and is entrenched in his belief that peace and rebuilding can come only once he’s smited the last of his Gold enemies. He’s emotionally unavailable to his wife and children, and he’s unable to empathize with his loyal men who increasingly look toward their families as an escape from endless war.
Darrow had always been driven by a cause, but he’s become an ideologue, and he demonstrates in Iron Gold that he can’t really be reasoned with. Because we know him so intimately from the first trilogy, we understand that the cause is just and he’s not a tyrant for tyranny’s sake. But his myopic focus on war as his only diplomatic tool makes him destructive and destabilizing for the rest of the society that’s trying to rebuild. Seeing him through the eyes of other characters drives home how polarizing he is, and how he’s gone from a revolutionary hero to just another fallen idol who wields his power to do as he likes. So despite my early reservations, this looks to be just about the best pivot Pierce Brown could have made: how are the People actually faring after Darrow went to war for them? The horrors of battle and immediate aftermath are well-covered territory in fiction, but the years of instability afterward are also raw and devastating.