Golden Son – Review

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!

Seance Infernale – Review

“All those things you fear will reach from into the shadows and pull you down there with them.”

Seance Infernale is an intense thriller following Alex Whitman on his journey to find a piece of film, only rumored to exist. In America, Thomas Edison is credited with building the first camera known to capture motion pictures. In France, the Lumber brothers. But one year before Edison filed his patent, a man named Augustin Sekular is rumored to have built and filmed the world’s first motion picture camera. Conveniently, or rather inconveniently, one year before Edison files for his patent, Sekular vanished from a train, never to be seen or heard from again, taking all signs of the camera with him.

However, the man hiring Whitman to find this lost piece of film isn’t interested in any of the film strips by Sekular known and catalogued. He wants one so rare, it is only whispered about: Seance Infernale. A film only referred to in a letter by a man known in history to be a conman of sorts.

This book is more than a hunt for rare art. More than a historical mystery yearning to be solved. We learn that Whitman lost his daughter ten years prior. Abducted in a park in Edinburgh and never heard from again, she haunts Whitman. His acceptance of this job, and this hunt for Sekular’s film takes him back to the city filled with ghosts. Whitman will have to face his own ghosts, while searching for Sekular’s.

“Sources failed to indicate Sekular’s exact Edinburgh address, they stated that the family lived in a perilous region, full of seedy businesses, dark alleys, and run-down tenements, a place “where wickedness loses its seductive appeal by manifesting in all its depravity.”

Whitman isn’t the only perspective we get; however. In addition to his hunt for this mythical film, a Detective Sergeant, Georgina McBride is hunting an elusive creature of a different sort. A serial killer prowling the streets of Edinburgh, kidnapping children and leaving their bodies in alleys. Georgina needs to find his latest victim while there’s still a chance they are alive.

Two different people searching for two different things, and yet their paths cross in unpredictable ways. But the more each of them discovers, the more they realize their searches are more dangerous than either one ever anticipated.

“Because a murder investigation is first and foremost a hired investigation; your client may be silent and dead, but he is still screaming out for justice.”

This book shocked me! I was expecting a hunt through time to solve a lost mystery. But, the present day twists with McBride’s serial killer hunt kept me on my toes! It was easy to lulled into the mystery of this lost film, and what happened to Sekular. As soon as you got comfortable in that story, you were slammed into the present day with the hunt for this killer. In addition, we get some narration from Elliot, the killer himself, told in such a way that you aren’t sure who he is going to end up being, or why he is important to Whitman and this film.

There is graphic violence in this book, both in what Elliot does to his victims and some flashbacks of other scenes in characters lives. One particular scene of animal cruelty was two pages I skipped, it was that grotesque. So, if that sort of violence unnerves you or makes you queasy, this may not be the book for you.

As far as dark thrillers, this book is crazy dark and crazy intense. I was climbing the walls, reading between my fingers, and definitely leaving the lights on to make it through this book! The author does a fantastic job weaving characters in and out of the plot, and just when you’ve forgotten about someone, they pop back in to play. He has a talent for making you look to the left and then hitting you from the right. Every twist and turn was like plummeting down a roller coaster blind folded. It is exhilarating but also terrifying.

My favorite parts are when we are taken below ground into ancient and forgotten parts of Edinburgh. Areas simply entombed over in the name of progress. Skariton does an insane job bringing places to life. I could taste the dust and smell the stale air as crypts and catacombs were discovered and explored. And nothing says creepy more than underground houses, forgotten tunnels and old graveyards.

“You could have walked past it every day on the way to work and you wouldn’t have noticed it, padlocked behind doors or hidden underground. It was right there, for everyone to see, yet it was unknown. But that was Edinburgh, revealing itself only in the constant vigilance of dark, steady eyes.”

I did read this as an ARC, so there were some pieces that seemed incomplete. I don’t mean the writing, it’s more the presentation of the book. This is a book that has art within the book, and with those pieces missing, it felt a little confusing. Some were there, but notes at the bottom and the notes in the back seemed to not quite be finished, so I didn’t feel that I got the entire experience.

The hardest thing, and again, this may be fixed in a final copy, is there weren’t any years in the chapter headers. The book is divided into sections with the date (month and day) listed at the beginning of each section. But, the narration jumps between the years quite a bit and it can get confusing, especially as we are reading between multiple points of view. It isn’t overwhelming, but I did have to backtrack a few times to figure out where I was supposed to be.

In all, this book was perfect for October reading and for the #spookathon. It will leave your heart racing and your stomach churning as you hold your breath waiting to read the outcome. If you like dark, if you love thrillers, and you don’t mind some intense violence, this book is definitely for you!

I won this in a giveaway from AA Knopf, and was not required or obligated to review.

Good Me Bad Me – Review

“I thought you would own less of me after I handed you in but sometimes it feels you own more.”

From the very first pages, Good Me Bad Me grips you in the horrific world of Milly. A teenage girl deeply traumatized. Milly isn’t her real name, but protecting her identity is important since she has to testify against her mother. Who is a serial killer. And Milly is the one who turned her in.

Quick warning, there are triggers everywhere in this book, and while they aren’t exactly graphic in nature, they are there. Sexual abuse, violence and self-harm. This book is a dark look into a troubled mind.

Be prepared to dive deep into uncomfortable territory with this book. Everywhere you look there are murky morals and questionable characters. You would think the villain is easy to spot, the serial killer mother. But, life isn’t always quite so clear. Milly finds herself delivered out of the hands of a sadist, only to be placed in the direct line of fire of spoiled teenage girls.

“One day these boys and girls will run the world. In the meantime, they ruin it.”

And you would think that the comparison to those two realities is trivial and insignificant, yet Land writes both Milly’s new reality in relation to her old so boldly, that you frequently wonder if Milly is indeed in better hands. It’s quite brilliant how Land is able to capture both the inconceivable horror of being raised in such a brutal way, and then to show us the exhausting drain and torment of living with a bully.

The irony that the bully is the daughter of a prominent psychologist who has offered to foster Milly and help her prepare for the upcoming trial simply adds more realism to the book. It’s often those we love who can’t see us at all. Yet Milly seems able to see more clearly than everyone else. She is hyper aware of the hypocrisy and injustice around her. She sees the motives and lies the people around her tell not just each other, but also themselves.

“The world turns on a million different looks. Glances. I work hard to decipher them, harder than most.”

We see into Milly’s mind, her internal thoughts and struggles. She was raised in a world of pain and torment. She received and watched both given freely, taught that these things equal love. So even though she has been removed from this existence, her new life is just as isolated since no one except her foster parents know of her past. She is given a new life, but she can’t openly face her old one.

Being thrown into Milly’s head for the entirety of the novel lets us experience how her past and present conflict with each other. We see the torment she lives in her dreams and memories. Only to wake up and face a different set of torments in real life. Both realities have their own traumas. Both realities would shape a child irreparably as they grow. So it is a grisly fascination to watch how living through both could possible shape Milly.

“It’s the chapter on the children of psychopaths that interests me the most. The confusion a child feels when violence is mixed with tenderness. Push and pull. A hyper vigilance, never knowing what to expect, but knowing to expect something.”

It’s hard not to sympathize with Milly. To feel that she is being given a bad break all around. And yet, it’s still difficult not to be leery of her as well. She is the child of a killer. And openly worries that she’s a product of her environment. She is only letting her peers and teachers see one side of her, so is she only letting the reader see one side as well?

We can only watch, transfixed by Milly and her memories. The nightmares, and memories, daily bullying, and stress of being the sole key witness in a trial against her mother culminates to a breaking point in Milly. We are faced with the question, when she breaks, which Milly will win?

This book is phenomenal. While it is deeply disturbing, I love a book filled with moral ambiguity. Where good isn’t bad and bad isn’t good. Especially in cases where you think it should be. Life rarely is so clear cut, and I appreciate an author willing to dive into the depths of that grey area. I love it when they succeed, even if the result is haunting and chilling.

I was simply blown away with Good Me Bad Me. There aren’t enough adjectives to describe how this dark thriller crept into my brain and found a home. I’ve always been a firm believer in facing the worst in yourself to find who you want to be, and Milly does that to the extreme. Her worst is the makings of nightmares, and yet she still tries to be normal. To not be her mother. The effort alone is worth applause.

This novel is even more delicious with the ending. I don’t want to spoil it, but talk about morally ambiguous! It took me awhile to even digest how I felt about what happened. These are the types of endings I live for in a novel! Make me think and wonder. Force me to really dive deep into my own skeletons and fears. Really make me face my demons.

Again, this is a dark novel, and while violence isn’t necessarily graphic, you tread down some twisted paths. But if you like to traipse on the dark side, and waltz with the devil on a foggy midnight from time to time, Good Me Bad Me is waiting for you.

Thank you BookSparks and Flatiron Books for sending me this intense thriller as part of the Fall Reads Challenge.