Thursday, January 08, 2015

Review: "Golden Son" by Pierce Brown

Darrow has survived being carved from a Red into a Gold. He’s survived the brutal Institute and emerged as the top graduate, coming under the wing of none other than the ArchGovernor of Mars Nero au Augustus. But, as Pierce Brown’s “Golden Son” ($25, Del Rey) begins, he finds himself in a position as precarious as any he’s been in.

Due in part to overconfidence, Darrow has lost a battle – a battle that would have made him the commander of an armada, and more importantly for his short term prospects, a battle against the sworn enemies of Augustus, the Bellona family. 

The ArchGovernor has disowned Darrow and put his contract up for auction. He knows that it will likely be bought by the Bellona, who want to serve his heart to the family matron in vengeance for killing her youngest son during one of the trials of the Institute. What’s more, Darrow hasn’t had any contact with the mysterious Ares, leader of the rebel group Sons of Ares – the man who sent him to infiltrate Gold society in order to bring it down from the inside.

If he wants to attain that goal and see the dream of his executed wife Eo come to fruition, he’ll have to change things quickly. To do that, he’ll once again have to put aside Darrow and once again reclaim the mantle of the fearsome Reaper.

When it comes to trilogies, you expect a lull in the second book as things come into focus for the grand finale. Expect to be surprised by Brown. There is no lull. Far from it. If anything, “Golden Son” is more frenetic than “Red Rising,” and in my opinion, an even better book. Considering how much I enjoyed the first volume, that’s saying something.

Brown barely allows the reader to take a breath as the sands shift beneath Darrow’s feet and he has to react quickly and often violently to keep his goals intact.

I’m very picky when it comes to science fiction and not prone to going woozy over space battles. That said, in “Golden Son,” Brown delivers one of the most captivating and, yes, gorgeous battle scenes that I have ever read in the form of the Iron Rain. The initial assault, in my opinion, perfectly captures the chaos, heroism and horrors of the battle, and it left me holding my breath and turning the pages to see what happened next.

“Golden Son” has action aplenty, but it’s not all about those flash-bang-wow scenes. Darrow and his friends have to grapple with some tough moral questions, some of which are not far removed from the ones that society faces right now. There’s an introspective side to the character that makes him one of my favorite of this dystopian subgenre.

Brown is also good at breaking the tension and darkness on occasion with a bit of levity, often in the form of Darrow’s loyal companion Sevro, a character that I think most any reader will find it difficult to dislike despite his, umm, proclivities. There’s a nice reference to “The Hobbit” in one of his scenes that put a huge smile on my face.

You’ve read stories like Pierce Brown’s before – the dystopian society that’s segmented into castes where the ruling elite the rest beneath their bootheels and a young hero rises to attempt to challenge the status quo. I daresay, though, that you may not have ever read a better version of it than you’ll find in “Red Rising” and “Golden Son.”

It's only the first full week of the year, but it's not too early to say that it's going to be tough to top "Golden Son" as a best read of 2015. All of the other authors with books coming out this year have their work cut out for them.

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