Friday, January 16, 2015
Review: Golden Son by Pierce Brown
Title: Golden Son (Red Rising, #2)
Author: Pierce Brown
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Note: This review is spoiler-free for Red Rising and Golden Son. However, if you are new to this series I recommend reading my review of Red Rising first as it sets up the scope of this world and provides background information about the general plot which this review does not. (You can read my review of Red Rising here.)
I have a LOT to say about Golden Son,--it's just one of those books--but to start with...
1. I experienced HIGH levels of stress while reading Golden Son. Making me care that much for your characters is not cool, Pierce Brown.
2. Um, what was that ending? A joke? Because I'm not laughing... I'M CRYING.
Now that that's off my chest I can honestly admit that Golden Son is a sequel that rivals the brilliance of Red Rising and transcends it. While it is still prone to bouts of dramatism, Golden Son amps up the political stakes in this intergalactic world and spares no qualms about destroying, torturing, and killing off every one of your favorite characters. If you thought this was Young Adult, think again. Golden Son begins two years after the events of Red Rising and Darrow, our protagonist, is no mere boy. At twenty-years-old he has come a long way from the sixteen-year-old Red he started out as. Moreover, his time in Gold society has altered his perceptions of the world he lives in. Even in Red Rising, Darrow resisted seeing the world in gray. He wanted to hate Golds and their power; he wanted to fight for Reds and nothing else. By the end of Red Rising, Darrow was forced to grudgingly admit that the world was not quite as black-and-white as he had hoped. In Golden Son, though, he finally understands that this war he's fighting isn't about Red vs. Gold; it's so much more.
In comparison to its predecessor, Golden Son feels more volatile. Darrow is no longer confined and with the entire universe at his disposal, his task seems far more impossible than it ever did before. Brown weaves political power plays alongside epic war battle a la Game of Thrones and every time I think I've got it all figured out, he throws in a curve ball and changes up the game yet again. There isn't a moment to breathe in Golden Son. If Darrow isn't plotting war, engaging in war, or dreaming about war then he's himself; a Red, stripped away of the facade he displays to the world. Although some may argue that the strength of these novels lie in the quickly-paced plot lines which move forward with purpose, I would argue that Brown's true talent shines through in the more quiet, introspective scenes. It isn't often that readers are given a chance to look into the mind of a male narrator but Darrow is a flawed hero that, had I lived in Brown's fictional universe, I'd give my life for.
What I find most remarkable about this series is the fact that Brown has seamlessly created a world of great political divide, strife with violence, yet the humanizing moments are what ultimately linger. Golden Son expands on its cast from Red Rising and though I struggled to remember who was whose son or daughter, the larger host of characters only amplify Darrow's struggles. Whether it be an increasing host of enemies or just the friends Darrow is forced to alienate as he hides the truth of his lineage, Darrow battles his loneliness time and time again. Eo remains a constant in his thoughts; both an inspiration and a guiding compass. Nevertheless, it is her memory which ultimately forces his isolation too. Although Darrow is widely known in the Gold community for his brute strength and battle skill, the Sons of Ares have had little contact with him and the burden of what he has agreed to do is now felt, two long years later. Throughout Golden Son Darrow comes to the realization that, cheesy as it may sound, the truth will set him free. Unless he trusts those around him, they will not linger long enough for him to rely on later.
Golden Son is interspersed with chapters that consist solely of conversation between Darrow and a close friend of his. Those chapters, squeezed between the politics and battles, utterly charmed me. Just as Darrow won over allies, he won me over too. Golden Son emphasizes just how difficult friendships can be: how fickle and fleeting; how we don't realize their worth until they're gone. In his war against Gold, Darrow needs as much back-up and support as he can find. Moreover, if Darrow can convince those around him that lower colors deserve the equality that Gold enjoy, then Darrow is that much closer to changing the world. Slowly, but steadily, Golden Son transforms Darrow's purpose to an even greater one. While Darrow may have started out wanting revenge against Gold, now he recognizes that it isn't Gold who must burn but their society.
Brown writes three-dimensional, flawed characters. No one within these pages is perfect and their imperfections are what make them downright human. I was already attached a decent number of characters from Red Rising but I fell for even more of them in Golden Son. As an author who uses death as a purposeful stab to the heart, I bled while reading Golden Son. Ultimately, it's one big stress fest; wondering who will be the next to die, anticipating who will betray Darrow, trying to figure out the political machinations ahead of time. And yet, that's what makes Golden Son such a thrill to read. Flipping each page more and more quickly in an effort to discover what happens is part of the experience.
One of the most stressful aspects to this novel, though, was the romance. Darrow and Mustang share hints of a love story in Red Rising but in Golden Son, with Mustang in such a pivotal role, their push-and-pull dynamic comes to a head. I know I said it in my review of Red Rising, but Darrow is a feminist male narrator. He respects Mustang, trusts her to make her own decisions, and understands that her strengths are different from his and, as such, she just may be one step ahead of where he is in the game of Gold politics. Mustang is one of my favorite characters precisely because she understands the political situation, seizes the upper hand, and does whatever is necessary to gain it. Unlike so many strong female characters whose purpose molds them into villains, however, she maintains a strong moral compass and winds up bettering everyone at their own game. When it comes to Darrow, though, she refuses to be with someone who continues to hold part of himself back and, despite the fact that their friendship is grounded in equality and their partnership balances out, the possibility of a true relationship remains in question. Mustang and Eo are such strong forces in Darrow's life; women who propel him to be better and convince him that he doesn't need to resort to the depravity of his enemies. Thus, despite the fact that the romance in these novels is so minimal, the romantic interests themselves are integral to creating Darrow.
At one point in the novel, Darrow acknowledges that it is all women who have molded and shaped him to become the person he is. Whether it be his mother who made him the man Eo fell in love with, or Eo who gave him the power to transcend and become the man Mustang fell for, or Mustang who pushed him to be the man others followed. In a world of war and mayhem, dominated by men, the influence of femininity is not forgotten which I, as a female reader, appreciate. What's more, there's a scene in Golden Son where Darrow simply starts crying and the fact that it simultaneously breaks down gender stereotypes while humanizing our protagonist deserves praise, indeed. With Golden Son, Brown has created a rich, heart-felt novel, more science fiction than dystopian, with characters who both maim and inspire. Not only compulsively readable, but also brimming endlessly with themes, messages, and underlying nuances I won't even pretend to be smart enough to pick up, this is not a trilogy to be missed. Knock down The Hunger Games from your shelves if you have to make room for this; it's worth it ten-fold.