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!

Red Rising – Review

“I would have lived in peace. But my enemies brought me war.”

Anyone who has known me at all, for any time, during the last two years, has probably had me try and push this book on them. I mean, it’s pretty bloodydamn amazing. As I’ve pushed it and raved about it and wanted to get ready for the new release of Iron Gold, a quiet part of me wondered, would my love of this series survive a reread?

Yes, my goodmen, it gorywell can!

For those of you who may not know the story of Darrow, Red Rising is the first in a trilogy. And be warned, this series will not be for everyone. It is violent, brutally so. This book is a fascinating and in-depth look at the complexity of power in society.

Darrow is a Red. Born in the mines underground on Mars, mining an element that will make terraforming planets possible. They are told they will be heroes when they mine enough. Saviors of mankind. They work on the promise of a better life for their children.

But that promise is a lie. Built by the Golds.

Darrow soon learns of this betrayal and his rage drives him to do the impossible. Become his enemy.

Through Darrow’s eyes, we learn of the enormity of the lies he had been raised on. We learn of the vast caste of Colors, all playing a role in maintaining a society that thrives. Golds at the top, and everyone else serving beneath them.

But we also learn that there is a reason the Golds rule. They are cold and cruel. Willing to inflict pain for the greater good. Willing to do what is necessary to retain their power.

“Gods don’t come down in life to mete out justice. The powerful do it. That’s what they are teaching us, not only the pain in gaining power, but the desperation that comes with not having it, the desperation that comes when you are not a Gold.”

There is so much to rave about in this series! SO MUCH!

The examination of power within a society is fascinating in this book. Not just in the caste system and the way it’s laid out. But even the level of power an individual has within each caste. Not every Red is created equal. Not every Gold is created equal. Each Color has it’s own positioning, with appropriate benefits or punishments to be doled out as the leaders see fit. This book really does an excellent job of showing how precarious power can be, and how ruthless people have to be to secure it.

“Security and justice aren’t given. They are made by the strong.”

If Game of Thrones upset you over an author willing to kill his darlings, be prepared, because Pierce Brown drinks the tears of his readers for breakfast and laughs. Except it isn’t just the fact that he willingly kills off characters. It’s that he writes such amazing side characters, with such depth, and gives them such vibrancy, that it doesn’t take very long before you’ve become attached. It’s actually quite a skill to create these personalities in his characters that manage to find their way into your hearts so quickly.

Brown’s ability to write this diverse and vivid cast of characters is impressive. If your favorites manage to stay alive, and that’s a big if, you’ll find that even though this book is told in the first person entirely through Darrow’s perspective, Darrow isn’t the only character you root for. I dare you not to fall for our favorite little goblin or the giant teddy bear of a warrior! I DARE YOU!

“If violence is the Gold sport, manipulation is their art form.”

The level of manipulation and betrayal in the Gold caste is breathtaking. Characters you root for, you find yourself cursing. Alliances change lightening fast. Power a tricky and slippery thing. Again, this look at how power works is stunning. How it is elusive, and even individuals in a group considered Gods among men can still fall. Or be powerless.

Brown doesn’t write drastic black and white characters, with allegiances firmly in the good or bad camps. Instead we get something closer to reality, both present day and historically. We see political machinations working underneath processes thought free of them. We get to pull back the curtain to see how leadership is often taken, rarely actually earned. This harsh reality can make for uncomfortable reading because these characters don’t follow normal tropes or formulas. Like Darrow, Brown sees the game and rips it apart.

“An empire cannot be destroyed from without till it is destroyed from within.”

I happen to like books where you might like the villain as much as the hero. Where the hero makes mistakes and isn’t perfect. Where the villain may be evil, but also holds grains of good. People are rarely all good, or all bad. They are generally made up of a million shades of both and everything in between. Brown writes his entire universe in that spectrum and it makes for an intense, bloody, and breathtaking ride.

The first time I read this, I inhaled the words. This book felt like a campaign of shock and awe. It was stunning in scope and awesome in detail. I wasn’t sure what the ride would be like a second time. Turns out, it was just as intense, but somehow, knowing what was to come made the book even more heartbreaking. I was able to really understand how fast these characters are introduced and how strongly they make an impact.

I am a huge book pusher when it comes to this series. It is unlike anything you’ve ever read. It is about power. Love. Loss. Revolution. Rebellion. Rising up and falling down. It is bloody, violent, harsh and cruel. It will show you the best of humanity and the worst. Sometimes in the same breath. And it all happens in bleeding space!

Bring it on Golden Son, because here I come!

The Heart’s Invisible Furies – Review

“Anything is possible,” I said. “But most things are unlikely.”

The Heart’s Invisible Furies is an epic, all-encompassing story spanning the life of Cyril Avery. Cyril is adopted, “not a real Avery”, as his adopted parent’s Charles and Maude often remind him, growing up in the 1950’s in Ireland. Even though his adoptive parent’s remind him, (quite frequently), of his adoptive status, Cyril doesn’t find himself neglected, or even uncared for. He is simply a participant in an odd family.

Cyril knows he is different. It isn’t just his relationship to his adoptive parents. He is quiet and shy and has a stutter. But nothing life shattering sets him apart. Until Charles ends up arrested and goes to trial for tax evasion. This normally wouldn’t have anything to do with Cyril, no more than natural consequences would provide. However, as fate would have it, this brings Julian Woodbead into Cyril’s life, which sparks his trajectory down a new, frightening path altogether.

“And a moment later I realized I didn’t feel shy around him at all. And that my stutter had gone.”

Even though the interaction between the two boys is brief, it is emblazoned into Cyril’s young mind. And while most boys begin to dream of girls, Cyril finds himself dreaming of Julian. Years later, when another twist of fate brings Julian to the same school, and Cyril’s new roommate, his love for his friend cements firmly and stubbornly into his soul; and launches a complicated, lifelong friendship.

“But for all that we had, for all the luxury to which we were accustomed, we were both denied love, and this deficiency would be scorched into our future lives like an ill-considered tattoo inscribed on the buttocks after a drunken night out, leading each of us inevitably toward isolation and disaster.”

Growing up during that time period as a gay man was difficult most places in the world. In Catholic, conservative Ireland, it is near impossible. We feel the fear as Cyril walks through parks and pubs, terrified of being beaten and subsequently arrested by the Garda for simply trying to find companionship. We feel the guilt and confusion of wanting to be “normal”. We feel the exhaustion of constantly living a double life and maintaining a constant lie.

Boyne writes so beautifully, it is easy to hear the Irish lilt in their dialogue and feel the depth of Cyril’s emotions. There is a sharp humor in these characters. With all their dysfunction, Charles and Maude are entertaining people who you have to laugh at since they seem to be incapable of seeing the ridiculousness of their ways. And Cyril himself is very funny without trying, or in some instances, even meaning to be.

This is a beast of a book, and yet I read it easily in a few days. This is a book where you fall completely in love with the characters, and get lost in the drama of their lives. Cyril, for all his flaws and mistakes, is very likable. He makes some very wrong choices, but it would be difficult to say anyone would make different ones given the same set of circumstances.

“We all fall in the shit many times during our lives. The trick is pulling ourselves out again.”

And while this is such a beautiful book, make no mistake, it will rip your heart out. Because you will feel the cruel underside of human nature deeply and profoundly in these pages. You will feel what it is to be hated simply for who you are. To be afraid for your life. To be on the receiving end of bigotry. It isn’t easy to bear. For all the warmth and humor and wit, there is an sharp wrenching pain as well.

Which is why these characters and this book will stay with you. It is reminiscent of life. Sometimes funny, sometimes warm, sometimes lonely, sometimes painful. And yet, overall, very full and rich and full of meaning.

Throughout Cyril’s life, we also get to witness monumental shifts in society. We see the impact of the IRA, the horrific terror of the early days of AIDS, the historic vote to grant marriage to all. We see how attitudes towards homosexuals varied from openly accepting in Amsterdam to barely veiled contempt in America.

But for each shift in time, each life lesson that Cyril experiences, for better or for worse, he grows as a person. He begins to learn to accept his mistakes and his failures. Learns to forgive, himself and those who have wronged him. He learns to accept himself. And it is in this acceptance that he finds not just peace, but acceptance in return.

“Maybe there were no villains in my mother’s story at all. Just men and women, trying to do their best by each other. And failing.”

Sometimes life doesn’t give us villains wrapped in a nice, black bow. Sometimes we are presented with good people who make terrible decisions in the name of the greater good. Sometimes we get people just trying to live the only way they know how.

The Heart’s Invisible Furies will remind you that life is sometimes hard. That we don’t always know what we’re doing. That we will make some great decisions and some terrible ones with inconsequential ones strung in between. We will have fond memories and regrets. But the most important thing is to live. To continue to move forward, and try every day to live better than the last.

There are some amazing life lessons wrapped in this plot. Lessons on forgiveness and acceptance, yes. But also lessons on how to let go of this illusion of control we imagine we have over our lives. Charles and Maude showcase the best examples of this. Julian shows us the lesson of friendship and love, while Alice allows us to see how to let go of hurt and forgive. And throughout it all, Mrs. Goggin let’s us see how to let go of regret. Cyril, of course, comes wrapped with all of these and more.

Easily one of the top five books I’ve read in 2017, I would recommend this book to anyone. Be ready to fall in love. To laugh. To cry. I wish I could do the eloquence of this book justice, but I don’t know that I can. All I can do is urge you to pick up this book. You won’t regret it.

Thank you Hogarth Books and Blogging for Books for sending me this book to read and review.

Beautiful Animals – Review

“Morality was nothing more than paying attention to the chain reaction while not causing another one.”

Beautiful Animals is simply stunning. This novel is not just thrilling in plot, but beautiful in prose. Osborne writes about the complexity of the human psyche in such a way that the vividness and absolute truth in some sentences took my breath away.

We follow two girls, Naomi and Sam. Naomi has had a summer home on the island with her father and stepmother all her life. Even though she can’t stand her stepmother and seems to harbor deep-rooted resentments against her father, she finds herself fleeing from her freedom, unsure of what direction her life will take next.

Sam is staying with her family in Hydra for the summer. First time visitors, her mother especially, is anxious to emerge themselves into the routine of expats and locals. Sam’s mother encourages the friendship, knowing that this could lead to more social connections. Sam is drawn to Naomi right from the start. She sees in her someone so different from all the other girls she’s known.

“The girls her own age were tiresomely uniform, as if a human-production plant in the center of the country had churned them out according to an approved paradigm. Suddenly, she had found someone different.”

Right away, the two find themselves inseparable, and Sam is endlessly enamored with how easily Naomi accepts and includes her. She is swept away in the glamour of it all.

Until the two of them stumble on a man, clearly a refugee, stranded and struggling in the isolated wild of the island. Naomi, immediately wants to help and charms the more reluctant Sam to her aid.

Naomi comes up with a plan to help Faoud. Sam doesn’t like it, but finds herself drawn in and is complacent to stop it. Even when things take a drastic and irreparable turn, Sam still is unable to tangle herself away from Naomi.

“She supposed that, speaking for herself, she had been mentally preparing for it for days and it was, she imagined, the way people evolved: they gravitated toward the most pleasing and dangerous idea.”

This book had me on the edge of my seat. It isn’t simply the way the writing lulls the horrifying nature of the plot into something eloquent and beautiful. It’s more that Osborne takes us into the heart and soul of each of these characters. We feel their desire to do good, even if this leads to very flawed logic and actions.

The thing I liked about this book the most is the flawed characters. They make bad choices, but one could argue that sometimes there are only the best of bad choices to be made. You can understand how Naomi, Sam and Faoud, each ended up being able to rationalize their decisions and how they were led to them. As humans we are all flawed in similar ways, and Osborne doesn’t flinch away from exploring these flaws. Rather he embraces them and creates incredibly compelling characters.

The quote at the beginning is such a beautiful summary of this novel. We are given an introduction to the girls and the plan without knowing much of Faoud. He is the catalyst, the beginning event that triggers the rest. And the girls are left to try and minimize these events from exploding into far larger ones that could quickly spiral out of control.

It’s interesting to try and frame the girls as the morality of the novel, and yet, strangely enough they are. They are not justice warriors out to save the planet, they are simply trying to find their place in it. And it is this effort that creates the catalyst and also minimizes the chain reactions.

Even as we get to know Faoud, in the days after the plan goes awry, we develop a sympathy and an understanding of him too. He isn’t easy to shove in a box and explain in terms of good or evil. He is an amalgamation of events in his life, leading to justifications and rationalizations built upon the last.

“Because you either act or you are shipped back in a cage to face an anonymous fate that no one will care about anyway.”

As the novel reaches its final chapters, I found that I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. I also found that, strangely, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to happen. Often when reading we pass judgement or pick sides, rooting for one outcome over another. In this novel, the line between right and wrong is so blurred, I didn’t know where it was, or even where I thought it should be.

In a time when we find ourselves facing overwhelming discussions on the politics of refugees, on the morality of helping other countries, this novel is impeccably timed. It throws you in the middle of the conversation, but with such an intimacy to both sides that it will make you pause and consider them equally. The politics is kept subtle and the tone is not heavy-handed. It is a fictional story that simply makes you aware of the larger discussion in the world. And while it is timely, this novel could take place in any number of times or any number of places, so beautifully is it written.

One thing is for sure, if you like dark, gritty and morally ambiguous novels, this book is definitely for you. It is haunting and beautiful and will stay with you long after you turn the final page.

Thank you Blogging for Books and Hogarth Books for sending me a copy to read and review in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

The Dying Game – Review

“This is where we’ll place you when you’re dead.”

These are the words that Anna hopes will lead to her freedom.

Anna Francis is a single mother living in a future totalitarian Swedish society. The year is 2037 and the future is bleak. Anna is back at her old job, barely surviving her day to day life, when she is called to meet with The Chairman. In the meeting she is given the opportunity that may save her life. Participate in one task, 48 hours of service, and in exchange receive a sum of money that will enable her to live the rest of her life in peace.

A group of individuals will be placed on an isolated island, Isola. They are all being evaluated for a position high in the government. Anna will be murdered the first night, and then remain hidden behind the walls to observe how each candidate handles the stress of this extreme situation.

Of course, things aren’t quite what they seem, and the moment she sees Henry, a man from her past, things get complicated for Anna very quickly. First, the Doctor with whom Anna is partners in the truth with, also gets murdered. Or does she? Anna sees her dead body, but is knocked unconscious. When she wakes up, neither the body or the Doctor is anywhere to be found. And then the others begin to disappear, one by one.

While we try and figure out what is actually happening on the island, we learn that Anna was suffering already from some fairly serious PTSD from her previous assignment. And the more we learn about her past, the more we begin to wonder what the true intention of this test is. And if anyone was intended to make it off the island at all.

Anyone who is a fan of Black Mirror will love this novel. As in the show, the plot and twists aren’t shocking for the sake of shock, but more subtle and nuanced. They are events that unfold slowly and then all at once. Each glimpse into Anna’s past makes the current events more foreboding and suspicious. And the reality of what could be happening is frightening.

Avdic does a brilliant job with the details of writing this society. The drabness of clothing, details within elaborate government buildings to contrast the rest of the surroundings, even cobblestone bombed streets, all serve to paint a dreary picture. You feel that you are in Cold War-esque Germany or Russia. A society where everyone is the same, trying to blend in while the leaders show their differences in opulence alone. It all lends to a sense of reality that sometimes dystopians are lacking. There aren’t high tech tricks to move the plot along. It simply drives forward in the uncomfortable reality we can so easily envision.

Woven into alternating narration are chapters from Henry’s perspective. These are fewer than Anna’s, but serve to give us a better look at Anna herself. How Henry sees her. Which doesn’t seem important on the surface of the story, but it is vital to the ending.

The final twist isn’t so much shocking, as it is twisted. You feel complicit in the manipulation, even though you’re just the reader. This is a book of political intrigue, yes, but also one of psychological warfare. How far will a government go to control their people. What extremes will they consider? As you read the end, it isn’t so much the extreme of events but how realistic they could be that are the most haunting.

It is the chilling reality of this novel that makes is so terrifying. The day to day lives of citizens in this society is in all ways controlled. The extremes that Anna’s mother took, and that even Anna herself considers, all illustrate this control. While it may seem that Anna had a choice in the initial assignment we know she doesn’t. ‘No’ is not something this government humors.

The Dying Game is a classic dystopian reminiscent of Huxley and Orwell. It isn’t lengthy but packs a concise punch within it’s pages. And like Huxley and Orwell, this isn’t a novel about the government or the world they live in. It is a dissection of human experience. Of how psychology plays a role in submitting to such a totalitarian regime. It is an examination of the human psyche.

I read this book in a day. Anyone who has a love for the classics, and especially an appreciation for the twisted manipulations of Black Mirror should enjoy this novel.

Thank you Penguin Random House and their First To Read Program for the opportunity to read this early copy in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.