First, my goodmen, let me begin by saying: if you haven’t read Red Rising, please stop and go read the bloodydamn book! There will be spoilers for Red Rising in this review. It can’t be helped. Don’t be a Pixie and cry about it. Just read the gory book.
“Once upon a time, a man came from the sky and killed my wife.”
If you thought perhaps Pierce Brown was going to ease up on his writing in the second book, you must not have been paying attention. The first sentence packs the first punch that continues relentlessly throughout the entire novel. To read Golden Son is to enter into the chaos of war.
In Red Rising we learn through the Institute, who the Golds truly are, and why they rule. In Golden Son, Darrow must not simply know the lessons, he must execute them. He can no longer play at being a Gold, instead he must become one. Except that is a tough thing to do. How can he become the very thing he means to destroy?
The political intrigue and depiction of sociology in this society deepens in Golden Son. In the Institute, we were children with them. We understood the make up of society and the burden of ruling mostly through theory, through observation, through history. Slowly, those views were dismantled as tests were presented and overcome to highlight how heavy this burden truly is.
But, the weight of war, the weight of rule, the weight of controlling an entire society cannot be felt in practice. They cannot be held in theory. And even though the lessons were cold, and cruel, and often deadly, you cannot know war until you are in it. You cannot feel the weight of loss, of sacrifice, of the greater good, until you watch your friends die, and watch cities crumble.
“Sevro cannot watch. I go stand beside him. “I was wrong about war,” he says.”
The larger examination of war and power are both present and viciously strong in Golden Son. But what I find particularly interesting in this book, is the inner struggle of Darrow. I really like Darrow as a character because he is so fascinating. He isn’t a hero, not really. He had to be pushed, rather forcefully, into action, and even then, he struggles with how he can proceed. Beyond that though, I really like how he often falls for his facade. At times he falls in love with the idea of glory and grandeur. He has to remind himself who he truly is.
“I hate how my body shivers at the idea of glory. There’s something deep in man that hungers for this. But I think it weakness, not strength, to abandon decency for that strange darker spirit.”
He is aware of how alluring the trap is. He fights it, and it grounds him. I like that complexity. Often we get the trope of the chosen one, or the main character as the single driver of the rebellion or change. And while Darrow is in some ways the chosen one and the driver of change, he also isn’t. He is a tool in that change, and relies on others. And I really like that added dimension to him. You don’t necessarily root for him as you do his side.
Beyond the struggle Darrow faces within the man he wants to be versus the man he is, the dialogue of friendship, love and trust are woven into every page. Darrow holds himself back, a piece of himself from every relationship he has. He doesn’t have a choice. Or he believes he doesn’t. And it is this distance that sows seeds of mistrust all around him. I find it interesting that everyone around him picks up on this secret to some degree, and it holds him back from being the man and leader he wants to be. It erodes the trust and friendships and open the door for betrayal.
“Friendships take minutes to make, moments to break, years to repair.”
Once again, it is these side characters that make this story deeper and richer in its telling. Each new character introduced offers another look at Darrow and who he is. Who he chooses to let in, and who he holds at arms length. Their choices also reflect not just the Society that created and raised them, but at how they view themselves in both the eye of that Society and in Darrow as their friend and leader.
While betrayal and treachery run rampant, I find it interesting that these things occur because of Darrow himself. His secrets, his inability to face the man he is, Color aside, raise some instinct in those around him. He feels like a failure when faced with these betrayals, but doesn’t understand that it isn’t in his failure as a leader, but as a friend. He asks people to fight for a greater good, for a noble cause, but isn’t noble himself in that sense. And in the end, this single flaw may be his undoing.
“I would have died for you a thousand times more, because you were my friend.”
Every page in this book is filled with intensity. The pace the book is written matches the turmoil Darrow must feel. He is at war within himself and is sowing the seeds of war all around him. Life and death weigh heavily on his mind daily. For to fail isn’t just shame. It will be his death, and maybe the death of those around him.
Brown raised the stakes in Darrow’s world and continues to expose us to the cold, brutal terror of this world. We see just how far Golds are willing to hold onto power. How much power means to them. We see the struggle of rebellion and the perils of leadership.
If Red Rising was intense, expect to be left broken by the end of Golden Son. It is a book that leaves you bruised and bloody, with a cliffhanger that will make you cry in agony. Luckily, the last book in the trilogy is out, so go, my goodmen, go and finish this exquisite bloodydamn series!