Book Review: Golden Son

Golden Son by Pierce Brown

I love reading Pierce Brown. A writer could learn a lot reading his work.

Golden Son is Book II of the Red Rising series and it is terrific. I don’t typically seek out a series to read, nor do I typically seek out Science Fiction. I’m more of a one-book, one-story kind of guy, but occasionally I come across a series that I really enjoy. The Red Rising series is one of those.

I rate it 24 out of a possible 25. (see My Book Reviews for rating explanation)

The premise: Golden Son is the continuing saga of Darrow, a man hell-bent on revenge for the death of his wife. But it’s so much bigger than that and I need to explain the premise from the level of the entire series versus just one book. The human race exists in factions based on color – each color performs a specific task and is immediately identifiable based on hair-color, body shape, or size (or combination of all the above). Color also determines where one rates in the hierarchy: Reds being the lowest and Gold being highest. Darrow is a Red who lives deep inside the planet Mars, along with thousands of other Reds, and believes they are preparing the planet for mankind’s eventual migration from Earth.

However, through a series of unfortunate events, including the death of his wife at the hands of the Golds, Darrow learns that humans have inhabited Mars and the entire Solar System for over 700-years, and that Reds are slaves to the Golds. Golds become his enemy and his life’s mission is to destroy them all. In Book I, Red Rising, Darrow’s vengeful path begins by having himself scientifically engineered to mimic a Gold. He rises to the top of the Gold hierarchy and befriends several Golds during his tenure at the military academy. Red Rising ultimately concludes with Darrow’s fight against the Golds who wronged him, yet the one Gold who ordered the death of his wife still lives. And to add more complexity, Darrow develops strong bonds with many of his Gold classmates, including one he may be in love with nicknamed Mustang, who just happens to be the daughter of his wife’s killer.

Golden Son picks up directly where Red Rising left off (which I highly recommend reading Red Rising first). Darrow’s feelings for Mustang deepen and she becomes the beacon that keeps his hatred at bay while he continues his quest to destroy the one who killed his wife. Darrow expertly out-wits his enemies only to fall victim to betrayal in his final battle to conquer the planet Mars and establish himself as ruler.

There is just so much about this book that’s right. The writing is wonderful. The story is simply terrific and the characters are real. My favorite stories are the ones I can believe and I believe this one.

One thing that stood out to me which made both Red Rising and Golden Son such great stories was Darrow’s thought process. His thoughts were perfectly timed and in true character, so real in fact, that I’d often stop and ponder it, envision it… I could feel it. Here’s an example. In this scene, Darrow is fighting in an armored suite that’s powered. The enemy detonates an EMP which knocks out the power to his suite and he sinks to the bottom of a river.

“I can’t move. My StarShell [the powered armor suite] is too heavy. I lie like a turtle, half stuck in mud at the bottom of the river. Confused. Fear rides in me. It happened so fast. Can’t even look to my left or my right to see who is with me. My com is dead. If it weren’t, I’d probably hear screams, curses.

This StarShell brought me from space to land. A life raft, a personal castle in the middle of a war. Now it’s my coffin.”

Now, I get that you don’t have the context, but this short scene depicts the horror and makes it real for me. I became anxious just thinking about being trapped like this!

One thing is for certain, Pierce Brown delivered on this one!

Here are my thoughts and ratings on Golden Son.

  • Craft (5) – Expertly written! Pierce Brown may be the best noun/action verb combination writer I’ve ever read. I cannot think of one instance in either book I’ve read so far where I may have changed a word, or made something shorter. As a reader, you simply never stumble over the writing. Ever.

  • Pace (5) – If you like stuff happening at a fast pace, you’ll love these books. Wonderful pace. There are no swaths of nothingness or boredom. Every word, every line, and every paragraph serves to march the story forward.

  • Characters (4) – Okay, let me explain why it’s the only 4 since I mentioned above about how much I love the characters. Pierce Brown brings Darrow alive as well as the other characters. That said, there are just so damn many characters that it’s difficult to keep up. Plus, some characters have two names: their nicknames and their real names, which makes it even more difficult. I found this to be more challenging in Golden Son than I did in Red Rising. In fact, I don’t recall having this struggle with Red Rising at all. But Golden Son, for me at least, was tough to keep up with all the names.

  • Story (5) – The story is amazing. I loved the idea of learning that humans had inhabited Mars for 700 years. I love the fact that Darrow’s motivation continues to be revenge for the death of his wife. And I absolutely love the complexities and intricacies of the different colors and how they represent the human condition. There is really nothing about this story I didn’t like.

  • Ending (5) – Similar to Red Rising, the ending was wonderful. It left enough to desire the next book, yet didn’t leave me feeling like I was robbed. Granted, this is a second book in a series, so the ending really must be judged by how the entire series ends, but when reading each book, it’s important (for me, at least) to feel like I just stepped off a roller-coaster and that I need a break before the next ride.  

Clearly, I enjoyed this book, as well as the book before it, Red Rising. It is genre specific, so if you don’t like Science Fiction, you might not see the real beauty in it; a lot of spaceships, space travel, planetary jargon, etc. But if you like a good story and it doesn’t matter that it’s Science Fiction, you’ll enjoy this one. And, if you’re a writer, you’ll learn a lot reading both Red Rising and Golden Son. Primarily, a great lesson in the effectiveness of noun/action verb.

Feel free to leave your thoughts. As always, I’d love to hear them.