Sequels never quite live up to expectations. Until now, that is. Golden Son, the phenomenal second book in Pierce Brown’s Red Rising trilogy (you can find my review of the first book here), is one of the only sequels I’ve enjoyed even more than the first book in its series.
About the book: Darrow, a lowly Red turned Gold, has learned valuable lessons and gained formidable enemies at both the Institute and Academy, elite schools for Golds. He’s having difficulty staying in contact with the Sons of Ares, and when left to his own devices he forms a web of tenuous allegiances with all sorts of characters, many of whom dislike each other. Darrow juggles friends, schemes, and trust as he continues to battle for a spot of power at the top of the pyramid, where he will be of use to Ares. His connection with house Augustus has its ups and downs–working his way into the ArchGovernor’s good graces would be an immense help to Ares, but it seems the Sovereign may have plans of her own for the family that may derail Darrow’s efforts. The Golds, the marvelous Golds, aren’t getting along. Discord may be what Darrow desires, but can he avoid being crushed between them in a civil war?
What sets it apart: Red Rising was incredible. In it, however, was one main challenge that persisted throughout the book: Darrow’s need to win the survival game at the Institute. There were other problems and plot twist that cropped up along the way, but those were nothing compared to the maze of intricate plot maneuvers through Golden Son. Darrow’s main problem has grown: lots of people want him dead now, and they’re coming from all directions. There is no safe place, no one he can trust, and yet he can’t win a fight on this scale without help. The contained conflict in the Institute was merely a taste of the horrible fight in the real world where he travels from ships and moons to whole planets that seem pitted against Darrow. The scale has been magnified a hundredfold.
Also, I love Darrow’s evolving view of Eo in this book. The fact that his first great love is dead prevents this story from developing into the usual sort of love story that evolves from a small group of people trying to save the world. But Brown makes a great literary move when he also refuses to let Eo become solely a symbol. Darrow admits that he was young when he fell in love with her. He notes other characters who disliked her. He sees that he doesn’t agree with her in every matter. Somehow, despite these revelations, he can’t let her go, and may even love her more as time passes despite her unrelenting absence. Eo is far from the most interesting character in these books, yet it is her presence and personality that make the entire story possible.
“How could so frail a girl have such a spirit, such a dream as freedom, when so many strong souls toiled and kept their heads down for fear of looking up?”
Worst aspect: I don’t like the instances when Darrow has a plan in the works and the reader isn’t allowed to know anything about it until he’s executing it. It feels like an easy way out for the narration to double back like that, to suddenly inform the reader that Darrow had done something to prepare for the seemingly hopeless circumstances that have befallen him, all without showing his hand to the reader. This technique allows the narration to stay true to the alternating uses of tension and surprise that come fast and heavy throughout the book, but tripping up the system every now and then might be worth allowing the reader at least a little foreshadowing and a chance to see at least the outline of the puzzle. One of Darrow’s friends claims that trying to figure him out is like trying to assemble a puzzle with missing pieces, and the book as a whole certainly feels that way at times.
Best aspect: This book is entirely unpredictable. There were a few plot twists I suspected, but somehow their execution still managed to shock me. Everything in this book is action and reaction and reaction, etc. so that even when one action is expected, it spirals out into something the reader could never have imagined. Maybe you guessed Eo’s secret or Ares’ identity in the first book–but even after the correct answer is revealed in Golden Son, just wait till you see what happens next, how it all fits together, what it means. Darrow is an astute judge of human character, always thinking and planning and counteracting others’ moves; something unsurprising may happen occasionally, but in response Darrow does nothing that fails to surprise. His very presence creates a whirlwind of events. There is no knowing what’s on the next page, and Darrow never disappoints.
“You are like one of the Old Conquerors. Charismatic and virtuous. When they look at you, they see none of the soft decadence of our meager time, none of the political poison that has saturated Luna…They will look at you and see a cleansing knife, a new day for a Second Golden Age.”
My reaction: 5 out of 5 stars. I absolutely loved this book. I immediately wanted to pick up Morning Star, the final volume in the trilogy, but by the time I’d reached the end of Golden Son I couldn’t do anything but put down the book and try vainly to catch my breath. The final chapter is deceptive–leading the reader to believe that the story is winding down, that no matter how difficult the road ahead may still be, Darrow has achieved a step forward on his path to radical change. I was lulled into this impression of safety, and then all hell broke loose again. THAT CLIFFHANGER, THOUGH. The end of this book made me infinitely glad I did not try to start reading this series before all three books had been released. I can manage to pause and finish a couple of library books, secure in the knowledge that Morning Star, the final book in the trilogy, is waiting patiently on my shelf. I would not have been able to endure months of waiting for the next installment to be published. Even though I like the other books I’m reading in the meantime, the few days’ wait before I delve into Morning Star will be torturous.
- Margaret Atwood’s The Heart Goes Last is another excellent dystopian novel with plot twists that will leave you reeling. This one features a town that prospers by keeping half of its supposedly innocent population behind bars for six months, then switching the citizens out for the rest of the year to imprison the remaining half. This creates jobs that the economy can no longer provide, but it also opens up new avenues of corruption that will prove dangerous for our main characters.
- Caroline Kepnes’ You has virtually nothing in common with the Red Rising trilogy except for a deadly young male protagonist and a sequel just as magnificent as its opening volume. Joe Goldberg is just as fitting a stalker as Darrow is a revolutionary–that is to say that sometimes his plans go awry but he’s excellent at thinking on his feet and overcoming the impossible. You can read my complete review of this book here.
What’s next: Shari Lapena’s The Couple Next Door is a thriller about a young couple whose six month old daughter goes missing while the parents are next door at a dinner party. The problem is that only the four at the dinner should’ve known the baby would be alone, but they’re all accounted for. I’ll be posting a full review shortly, in case you need any further convincing.
The Literary Elephant
Update: you can now find my complete review of the next (and final) book in this series, Morning Star, here!