Iron Gold – Review

** There will be spoilers for the Red Rising series in this review, but none for Iron Gold **

“Men call him father, liberator, warlord, Slave King, Reaper. But he feels a boy as he falls toward the war-torn planet, his armor red, his army vast, his heart heavy.”

Iron Gold is the behemoth of a book Red Rising fanatics have been waiting all these long months for. It is epic in scope, yet precise in execution. Ending at 596 pages, we get a brilliant introduction to life after the rebellion and all the messiness that comes with forming a new government while still waging war.

When I went to Howler Fest to launch this release, Brown said writing Iron Gold was like coming home. And you feel that in his words. There is a familiar feeling of catching up with old friends while reading, and yet it also launches us into new terrain with three new POV characters.

This feeling of coming home combined with the new characters gives us something quite unique. And this new novel is exactly why I will forever be obsessed with Pierce Brown’s writing. He gives us what we need, but rarely what we want and never quite what we expect. This leads to reading that leaves you breathless and on the edge of your seat, because you can never be sure what twist awaits you on the next page. The only certainty is that there will be uncertainty.

“Our familiar friend, dread, creeps onto the balcony with us, because deep inside, in the shadowy chasms of ourselves, we know Lorn was right. For those who dine with war and empire, the bill always comes at the end.”

The addition of the new characters, especially as new points of view, adds a richness to Iron Gold that is necessary and couldn’t have been achieved as elegantly by simply showing us the perspective of Darrow. Darrow was the driving force in Red Rising, but his choices, and the choices of those that followed him have consequences that reach far beyond what they could have imagined. In this way we the reader, along with the heroes of Red Rising, see how disastrous good intentions can end up being.

One of the first new characters we meet is Lyria, a young Red girl, liberated from the mines where she finds herself living in a refugee camp on Mars. This POV was one of my favorites, only because this is the most direct results of the war the Sons of Ares and Darrow embarked down. Darrow wanted to free his people, and he did. But, is freedom worth the price they paid, and that some continue to pay? Lyria gives us this path to explore and digest.

We also meet Ephraim, a Grey, an ex-soldier and ex Son of Ares. He is now a thief, drawn into the dark underworld that has taken a larger grip of the world, now that Octavia’s grip vanished with her death. I love this story as well, because it shows a different side to a new Society. The side where crime and criminals can form, taking advantage of cracks in the new system not yet filled.

Finally, we get Lysander, the young Gold torn from his life and thrown into exile. Lysander is by far the most interesting of the threads simply because of who he is. Former heir to the throne, now living with Cassius, who is still trying to find redemption and forgiveness for all his actions leading up to Octavia’s death. Cassius needs him to be the man he never was, but can you ever really learn the lessons of someone else’s life?

These new threads open us up to the world in a way we’ve never seen before. The point of the rebellion was to free the LowColors, but is freedom ever that simple? Can choices made with the best of intentions be removed from dark or disastrous consequences? The questions posed in Iron Gold on the nature of humanity and power are complex. We don’t get an idealized society, but instead but a messier reality. And that’s what makes it so fantastic!

“He’s too starry-eyed to see there’s a vast gulf that separates his idea of the Republic and the corrupt reality of what it’s become.”

And of course, this saga wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t get the perspective of Darrow. Now a man, he sees that what he wanted for society isn’t as easily achieved as he believed when he was young. Dreams rarely are. He finds that old sins continue to haunt him in ways he never dreamed, and finds that he needs to make decisions that take him further away from his own ideals and beliefs. Or perhaps they show him who we was the entire time.

Darrow has always been an interesting character. Making choices and doing things that he feels are right, but end up bearing unexpected consequences, at best, and horrific ones, at worst. By showing how these choices and the subsequent consequences impact the very people he wanted to help, Iron Gold doesn’t allow us to disregard the unpleasant nature of a society in turmoil. Or to relish in the happier, easier pieces of society. We have to see the results. Feel them. Submerse ourselves in the dark underbelly of them. It makes for a richly complex tapestry that forces the reader to truly examine murky grey areas that reality frequently resides in.

“After seeing the fall of one empire, I know enough to see the cracks in the foundation of this one.”

That murky area in between good and evil is what I love most about the Red Rising series, and what I find completely delicious about Iron Gold. The heroes aren’t always good, nor do they always do good things, or the right things. Are they justified? Perhaps, in the right light. But that’s the reality of life. The villain is always the hero to their own story, after all, and Brown knows this truth. He weaves it into nearly every character and story line, which forces the reader to truly examine a character and decide who they are at their core.

We are not all good, nor are we all bad. We don’t exist in a vacuum and Brown doesn’t allow his characters to do that either. We can see why a villain has gone down the path they have, or why a hero could be someone else’s villain. Iron Gold takes those undertones from Red Rising and highlights them with these new characters. Brilliantly, Brown also uses the characters we know and love to showcase these ideas as well.

In all, Iron Gold takes us home. It takes us back to catch up with Darrow and Mustang, Sevro and Victra. We see how the children of the rebellion are growing to be the leaders of a new Society. We see how they’ve changed, or perhaps how they’ve stayed the same. And these characters allow us to see the new characters in a different light. They all work together to show a Society struggling.

“A new wound can take a body. Opening an old one can claim a soul.”

Iron Gold shows us the cracks. We see the fragility of building a Society based on freedom and equality. How an empire can be both good and evil at the same time. It is an interesting examination of contradictions, a delicious study of power. It is still violent and shocking, but everything in this book reads as a set up to a much larger plan. At the end of the book we see a thousand paths laid out before us. A thousand directions our characters can go.

If there’s one thing I can be sure of, it is that Brown won’t take the easy road. The name alone, Dark Age, hints at more tragedy than triumph, at least in the short term. We will not get the path free of pain, but we will get the more satisfying one. The one we need rather than the one we want. But please, Pierce, I beg you: Please don’t kill Sevro!

Amazing thank you to Del Rey, Penguin Random House and The8app for sending me a copy to read, review and promote!

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