This is a review for Golden Son, the second book in the Red Rising trilogy. This review is spoiler-free. You can find my review of Red Rising here if you want to start from the beginning.
Golden Son takes us out of the Academy, and we see what Darrow is really up against in the “real world”. School is out, Darrow has publically declared his alliances, and well, we learn that politics isn’t really Darrow’s strong suit. Just like in Red Rising, we see shades of The Hunger Games, Ender’s Game, and now we’ve added The Game of Thrones to the mix. Politics and scheming are the bread and butter of the Society. Unfortunately (or fortunately to us, the readers), power games and political intrigue does not come as easily to Darrow as cunning in battle. The core of this book centers around this intrigue and Darrow’s coming to terms with it. Can he make the sacrifices he needs to and still hold to his own values and ideals? Will he achieve his goals? Does he even know what those goals are anymore?
Frienships take minutes to make, moments to break, years to repair.
Our world is immediately expanded; we are introduced to new characters while still following some of the old. I appreciate that not all the characters from Red Rising take a front seat in this book. It’s obvious that school is over and the students are in a larger social group. Throughout the book, we see glimpses of where they might have gone and how they are fairing in Society, but Darrow’s core group of friends has solidified into something realistic for a post-school life. But the world Darrow is exposed to has expanded as well. Suddenly we aren’t in schoolyard fights (as lethal as they were)– but the whole universe is suddenly on the line.
In my review of Red Rising, I mentioned that many had indicated that Golden Son is a better book than Red Rising. I would say that I have to agree. You can almost feel the palpable pressure Darrow is experiencing. And Darrow becomes even more realistic. For the first time, Darrow experiences crushing failure, and it changes him– Darrow grows in a way I merely imagined in the previous book. Here he becomes a protagonist you can root for.
Home isn’t where you came from, it’s where you find light when all grows dark.
The greatest achievement of Golden Son is that I feel most of the distractors I felt in Red Rising were cured. It’s like Pierce Brown sat down with a focus group, got feedback, and corrected it. I’ve never read a sequel that turned things around like this. So, without giving too much away, let’s chat about those improvements:
As alluded to (it happens in the first scene; this totally isn’t a spoiler) in the beginning of this review, Brown takes the “Chosen One” mantle he threw over Darrow’s shoulders in Red Rising, rips it off, and burns it. It was actually incredibly jarring to see Darrow fall so far so quickly. I lapped it up as a reader. It almost makes me wonder if the excessive hero worshiping from the first book was just setting us up for this moment. We didn’t completely lose the mantle of “Chosen One” wrapped around Darrow’s shoulders, but I’ll certainly chalk up the new and fully-realized ability of our protagonist to make mistakes as a point to Brown.
We are not our station in life. We are us – the sum of what we’ve done, what we want to do, and the people who we keep close.
Our female characters were redeemed in Golden Son! Redeemed and then some. No longer was our hero Darrow coming to their rescue. No longer did they exist purely to make the men seem more manly. Mustang, Victra, and even Octavia au Lune are all given powerful roles. They all stand outside of Darrow and never require saving from him, or any other male figure. They make it clear they don’t want to be saved, too. All these women are smart, capable, and they can play the game better than anyone. We finally have complex, flawed, fully-realized female characters. Yes.
You meed a man, you know him. You meet a woman, she knows you.
Along these lines, I mentioned in my previous review that I was interested to see where the conversation around sexuality and sexual violence goes in this book. The foreshadowing from the first book gets explored more deeply certainly evolved in Golden Son. In fact, the Pinks are not the only caste we learn more about from this perspective, either. Blues and Obsidians, in particular, are also addressed, bringing the complete absurd brokenness of this world into stark light. I look forward to seeing this come full circle in the finale of this series.
The one thing that I felt didn’t get corrected, and perhaps might have even gotten worse, was the pacing and writing style around our action-packed moments was still excruciating to read. I still had to re-read sections to get a good image of what was going on. That said, I didn’t feel like I was missing anything like I did in the last book. Instead, it felt more like what I wanted to experience– Darrow couldn’t focus on everything at once, and so we just experienced things from his perspective. Again, this wasn’t fixed completely, but it was much more believable.
He always thinks because I’m reading, I’m not doing anything. There is no greater plague to an introvert than the extroverted.
While most of my friends are completely in SQUEE mode after reading Golden Son, and while almost everything I struggled with in Red Rising was corrected, I still am not sold on this series. There was a lot of politic involved, and that’s just not my jam. Anyone who knows how little I enjoy The Game of Thrones can attest to this for me. I just… don’t care. But I definitely want to see where this story goes. I see a world that cannot be repaired, and I have no idea how Darrow, with or without his friends, can pull this off.
I’m rooting for you, Darrow au Andromedus. Stick the landing, and I’ll follow you anywhere.