Rise so high, in mud you lie.
-Pierce Brown, Golden Son
Golden Son is the Second novel in the Red Rising Trilogy by author Pierce Brown. Set 700 years in the future, this book continues the story begun in Red Rising, and follows Darrow, a Red Miner, sent to infiltrate the ranks of the Gold Aristocracy and ultimately destroy the Society, as color based caste system that props itself up on the slave labor of “Lower Colors.” Without spoiling the ending of Red Rising, which I really think you should read, there is not much more that can be said about the plot. That doesn’t mean there aren’t things to say about this book.
Let me make something clear in no uncertain terms; I loved this book. As far as second parts of trilogies go this ranks in my top 3, alongside The Empire Strikes Back, and Mistborn: The Well of Ascension. The key to having a successful middle chapter is to test your characters out, push them to their very limits, and see whether or not they can handle the stress. You need to introduce the audience you hooked in Part 1, to the larger world that your story takes place in, help them see the full scope of the conflict. Most importantly though, if you want to create a truly great Part 2, you have to break your heroes, have them lose in the face of a superior enemy, and leave them in a situation with nearly no hope. Golden Son succeeds in accomplishing these things on every level.
What I Loved
I want to talk briefly, and broadly about the arc the main character goes through in this book. Our hero, Darrow, ended Red Rising victorious, having successfully navigated the trials of the ruthless Institute. It doesn’t take very long for Pierce Brown to knock him down a peg, and it is done in such a way that doesn’t feel forced. Again, I want to be light on the details, but by 100 pages in I was legitimately sweating, the tension had already built to a pivotal point. After having read his “origin story” in Red Rising, I thought I understood Darrow and his outlook on life, but after he hears 4 devastating and life changing words, his motivations and priorities veer drastically. All to often in fiction dramatic character shifts like this feel artificial, but this is not the case here; I understand his reaction, it’s so believably human, and when Darrow learns to cope with it, and re-centers himself it feels completely earned. From that point his rise through this book is exciting and moving. Darrow succeeds in so many ways in this book, but he also fails, and does so in ways that have long term consequences. Those failures ultimately lead to a drastic fall at the end of this novel, one that I knew had to be coming, but still took me by surprise. The best way I can sum the ending of this book up is; “Red Wedding…Meet Darrow’s Triumph.” The final scene left me feeling literally gutted in a way that is both sickening, and so, so pleasing as a reader. Pierce Brown clearly loves his characters, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to pull any punches.
The cast of supporting characters is also incredibly fun to read about. Sevro, Darrow’s right hand man, in particular gets far more page-time in this book, and becomes even more likeable for it. There is a scene about 50% of the way into this book between Sevro and Darrow that nearly brought me to tears it was handled so well. Mustang, Darrow’s love interest also shines in this book. Still, the character who really steals the show in this book is The Jackal. Here in particular I want to tread lightly, but wow, what a character. The Jackal could easily be the main character of his own series and I think he would be just as powerful a main character as Darrow.
I’m sure there are flaws in this book somewhere, but I didn’t notice them in the 28 hour time period I read this book in, and honestly, I don’t care to know what they are. This book grabbed my heart in a way few ever have, and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to truly look at it objectively for that reason. There are times when you read a book that the experience of reading it is as much a reason for loving it as the story itself, and that’s the case with me and Golden Son. I will always look back fondly on the first time I read this book, wishing I could recapture that excitement.
Final Thoughts Below