Review: Golden Son by Pierce Brown


title:  Golden Son

author:  Pierce Brown

pages: 464

format: Hardcover 

isbn/asin: 978-0345539823

buy it: Amazon  Goodreads  B&N

rating: 5/5 [in the genre] or 9/10 [all books I’ve ever read].

recommended for:  Fans of Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card, Game of Thrones, and epic science-fiction.  People looking for a dense series that will suck them in.   Those who love young adult with a bite.

will i read this author again?:  Yes, a thousand times yes.  
will i continue the series?:  Give me book three right now and no one gets hurt.  I'm not kidding. SERIOUSLY, GIVE ME BOOK THREE.  I'M GETTING THE SHAKES OVER HERE.  

My Ratings Explained

With shades of The Hunger Games, Ender’s Game, and Game of Thrones, debut author Pierce Brown’s genre-defying epic Red Rising hit the ground running and wasted no time becoming a sensation.

Golden Son continues the stunning saga of Darrow, a rebel forged by tragedy, battling to lead his oppressed people to freedom from the overlords of a brutal elitist future built on lies. Now fully embedded among the Gold ruling class, Darrow continues his work to bring down Society from within.

A life-or-death tale of vengeance with an unforgettable hero at its heart, Golden Son guarantees Pierce Brown’s continuing status as one of fiction’s most exciting new voices.

the basics
Brown captured me with Red Rising and kept me with Golden Son. This is the trilogy I recommend to everyone I know, and for good reason. The sequel fulfills every promise of the first book and takes it to its limits. We meet Darrow two years after the Institute, poised to become lieutenant to the powerful man who killed his wife. What follows is a tangled web of intrigue, spies, diplomats, and doubles. In the center of it all, Darrow stands at the precipice of triumph or destruction, and only his ability to unweave this web will save him. Even more than before, we come to understand both layers of Darrow, Gold and Red, and the person he is beyond the masks. Midst the battles and duels, as gory and gritty as Red Rising, there are softer moments, moments of true friendship, revelation, and fraught love. Every page is taut with tension, and the distinct feeling that everything could shatter at any time. Though I staggered at the beginning, trying to recall all the characters I'd known before, I found myself quickly immersed in a breath-holding epic with a mind-obliterating conclusion. I'm dying for book three! 

Even NPR thought it was badass. And expresses it way better than I can. 

plot . 4/5
My biggest problem with the sequel was the time jump. Two years is a long time, and so much had changed for Darrow between Red Rising and now. He'd made new friendships, graduated the Academy, won and lost the heart of girl. I had a difficult time at first trying to reconnect with Darrow. I wanted to see those changes. I felt a little robbed. Also, Brown could do a wee better job at reminding you of all the characters. The dramatis personae at the beginning helps, but the cast is truly huge. That said, once I regained my footing, I was hooked. The pacing is breakneck. At some points, I felt that I was rushing through disaster after disaster with no hope of relief. Just like Darrow. Brown does a fantastic job of keeping the plot coherent at multiple levels: the dictatorship of the Lunar queen, Darrow's relationship with Augustus, the Sons of Ares, Darrow's friendships and nemeses. There's a clear sense of the overwhelming, epic problems laid on Darrow's shoulders. There are also plenty of surprises and twists that kept me guessing, and GRRM-level tragedies that broke my heart. By the ending, you'll be tense as a stalking cat--and then you'll read the last pages and explode. 

If you don't believe me, check out Goodreads. The feelings of many readers can be summed in ALL CAPS. 

concept . 5/5
Like Red Rising, Golden Son combines the sweeping space opera with the post-apocalyptic dystopian, and challenges the limits of both. It's the exaggeration of contemporary problems that strikes me the most. Social inequalities are embodied, literally, in the eugenically-designed castes, from the perfected Golds to the voluptuous Pinks to the stony Obsidians. A thousand years out, it's not terribly far-fetched; even as pure allegory, it's terrifying. From this premise, Brown derives the messianic terrorist, the brutality of class warfare, the dynamics and fragility of power. Golden Son is fully realized at all levels: political, social, personal. It at once examines the role of humanity within these larger systems and the role of the individual, for better or worse. Ambitious in scope, this is a book that demands to be re-read. 

characters . 4/5
With a massive cast, there are bound to be characters left half-formed or flat. Golden Son manages almost to eradicate this problem. While you still have the occasional trope-y side character (Lorn the training master, anyone? and some of the Howlers), most of the main cast consists of richly imagined humans with their own minds, their own stories. Darrow, whom I loved from the first, really comes into his own. The impossible decisions at his feet bring out the best and worst of him; I felt comfortable in his head, and perhaps readers who found him inaccessible in the first book will appreciate the attention given him here. Everyone else has grown and grows so much, too. There's Mustang, torn between family and peace but still brilliant as ever; Sevro, my favorite murderous weirdo; Roque, the dark poet; Jackal, the psychopath you can never grasp. And others, I'd have to go on for ages. Not everyone gets enough screen time, which is an unfortunate artifact of a book this ambitious, but everyone feels important and real and separate. 

Also, for those reviewers who call Darrow a Gary Okay, so he's kind of extra amazing, but hopefully Golden Son shows his deeply, horribly flawed side. But I get it. He's kind of great at all things and magical and cleverer than your average bear, and everyone seems to love him and want to follow him. But I think Golden Son makes it clearer that people follow him because he's earned their love--or because they want to stand in the light of his star. It still feels like a believable human. Also I still love him anyway. 

style . 5/5
Sharp, brutal, insightful...I could go on. Brown's style has a literary flair that pulls it above your typical young adult novel. Not to be snobby, but it really is just a bit better than most of what's out there. The action scenes are intense and comprehensible, the emotions are easily felt, and the diction was tight. Moreover, the writing's literary, somewhat formal tone gives the book an extra atmosphere of epicness and grandness and purpose that magnifies the plot perfectly. Even more, it's full of lines that just beg to be quoted. The obscene amount of dog-ears in my copy are proof. Brown knows exactly how to sum up something vast into an unusual, evocative phrase. The dialogue is also spot on, and feels totally believable as a sort of snobby future Gold language. Just gorgeous, really. 

mechanics . 4/5
This would be a Sarcasm & Lemons review if there weren't bits that annoyed me.  First of all, it's hundreds of years into the future!  Why are people still referring to Oscar Wilde?!  Was there no more recent author to pick?  Okay, I realize that a made-up author wouldn't fit as well because you wouldn't get the allusion, but this just bugged me.  I mean, at least pick someone super old, since the Golds are hugely obsessed with the ancient Greeks and Romans.  Also, I had a little whiplash in the middle.  It always felt like someone was ahead, then they were thwarted, then they were thwarted.  I liked it well enough, but it made me want to scream a little.  I think there was something else, but clearly it wasn't important enough to detract from my opinion.  

take home message
Golden Son delivers on the promise of its predecessor.  More sweepingly epic, more affecting, more human, it's a fast-paced tangle of motives and intrigue that cuts deeply and leaves you breathless.  

Note: I purchased this copy.  The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.  

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