Jalapeno Score: 47/50
Hello! Let me just quickly introduce myself: I’m Caitlin from Words and Other Beasts, writing a guest review here on Ellie’s blog for Golden Son, as part of the Jalapeno Fiction Award. So big thanks to Ellie for letting me review this here as part of her awards!
If you enjoyed Red Rising, Golden Son will not disappoint. It perfectly bypasses the curse that often plagues the second novel in a trilogy and keeps the action going, if not upping the ante a little. New characters are introduced to us without over-shadowing the ones we grew to love in the first installment, and Brown lets us finally see the true expanse of the society he has so intricately carved. It really is an action-packed read.
Red Rising ended on a rather up-beat note: Darrow survived, and conquered, the Institute and now he must work his way up through Gold society to aid the Sons of Ares, all whilst keeping his true Colour a secret from his benefactor, the Governor of Mars, and the rest of his Gold friends.
If you thought the Hunger Games-esque Institute was brutal, think again; the society of the Golds is much worse. Political back-stabbing, family feuds, foes pretending to be friends; this book has it all. It’s like a Sci-Fi Game of Thrones with just as much death and intrigue. Darrow must navigate this violent society whilst attempting a rebellion, but there are many obstacles standing in his way: his love for a Gold girl, the threat of the Bellona family, the power-hungry Sovereign, and the burden the Sons of Ares have thrust upon him. The question is, can he survive it all?
The primitiveness of the Institute in Red Rising meant that a lot of the science fell into the background. Whilst there was of course mention of gravBoots and spaceships, they didn’t stake centre-stage. Golden Son, however, truly immerses us in the scientific and technological advancements of the society. Now a Peerless Scarred, Darrow carries a ‘razor’ – best described as an electric whip of sorts – with him at all times. He mans fleets of ships in space, soars through the void with nothing more than a protective suit known as a starShell to protect him, and uses weapons like pulseFists and the beloved razor to take down his enemies.
Now that Darrow is fully immersed in the society, Brown is able to introduce much more science and technology. However, it never feels forced or gratuitous. The space battles are perhaps a little confusing to understand when words like ‘leechCraft’ and ‘wasps’ are suddenly introduced. I came to understand what the leechCraft were, but the wasps still just make me think of giant bugs buzzing about in space. However, despite these few blips, the vast majority of it works and helps to craft a truly unique and advanced society.
What is most interesting is the blend of science and technology with the ideals of Earth’s ancient civilisations. The buildings are often in the style of Roman architecture, but there will be clear, yet subtle, differences. I think the overlapping of the two technologies, modern and ancient, works well in the series and also makes it appealing to a wider audience.
Much like its predecessor, Golden Son is a fast, gripping read. These novels are exceptionally hard to put down. Like I said before, Brown manages to avoid the curse that so many second novels in a trilogy suffer from. The plot isn’t stagnant, but instead is able to keep the action going from Red Rising, but also improve upon it. Brown weaves an intricate plot, with many sub-plots and twists to keep you entertained and interested. They’re all easy to keep track of, especially with the added help of a character list and an info-graphic of the societal hierarchy at the front of the book. The novel also boasts an exceptional twist and cliff-hanger that made me need a bit of a sit-down to process it afterwards. I’d love to go into detail about the ending, but this is spoiler-free, so let me just say get ready to be shocked and appalled. There’s also a brilliantly staged scene near the end of the novel involving Darrow, Mustang and Ragnar that I loved.
So, you’re probably wondering after all this praise, why not a 10? Well, for all it’s fast-paced action, there were some scenes that were a little repetitive. There’s only so much I can take of Darrow and his friends ransacking enemy ships in a rather similar fashion. Brown did try and make these scenes less repetitive by throwing in some humour, but it felt forced.
Brown is excellent at crafting unique, likeable and flawed characters. Some new additions to the cast were Victra au Julii (half-sister to the venomous Antonia from the first novel), Lorn au Arcos (a man who we hear much of in Red Rising but never truly meet), and the father and brother of Pax au Telemanus, Kavax and Daxo. There are of course more characters we’re introduced to but these four stood out the most for me.
Victra especially is feisty and flirty, much like her sister, but she doesn’t have that nasty streak like Antonia. She’s exceedingly loyal to Darrow and I really liked her. Lorn is the man of legend, the famed Rage Knight, wise and gruff. He’s in actuality quite a complex character, not just your typical bearded mentor to the protagonist. The Telemanuses, on the other hand, are friendly giants who provide some excellent comic relief, but also some much needed humanity that seems to be absent in many of the ruling Golds.
Darrow definitely grows in this book. He’s forced to make some difficult decisions and, as a character who’s very in-touch with his emotions, his rage and sorrow and love, it was very interesting to see how he coped (or didn’t) with the decisions he had to make around his friends and his rebellion.
Other well-loved characters such as Mustang and Sevro didn’t disappoint and I really loved their dynamics with Darrow. Other figures from the Institute were perhaps not so involved as they were in Red Rising, but they weren’t entirely missed. However, we do get to know the Jackal properly. He was an evil hanging over Darrow and his comrades for much of Red Rising and, when we finally met him, it was only briefly. In this novel, we get to spend some more time with him, for better or for worse.
I can’t think of a single other book out there that’s similar to this series. Of course, there are always a few similarities such as rebellion, a dystopian society, humans conquering the solar system, etc etc, but all novels everywhere are going to have similarities; that’s the way of life. Brown has created a truly unique and complex plot, as well as a unique setting. Humans sorting themselves into colours, creating and enforcing a hierarchy, and then basing their beliefs and culture on Ancient Rome and Greece. Like I said, there will always be the main building blocks of stories and genres that writers will use, which is inescapable, but how you mould those building blocks, and what you place on top of them, is how you create a unique or unoriginal story.
The plot also doesn’t follow obvious tropes and, like I said, the ending was truly shocking. Much like George R R Martin with A Song of Ice and Fire, Brown isn’t afraid to dash your hopes and dreams. You know when you think “they can’t kill that character, he/she’s so important and so loved by readers”? Don’t fall into that trap.
Brown’s prose is lyrical and original. He crafts an excellent voice for Darrow and the writing flows well. You wouldn’t suspect that the Red Rising series is his only published work (as of now, I’m sure we’ll see lots more of him in the future).
However, like I mentioned before, Brown attempted to inject humour to pump up some repetitive scenes. Usually, Brown’s humour comes easily, but in these parts it felt forced. Instead of laughing, I cringed. Nevertheless, there are only a few of these instances in the novel so that’s why I only subtracted one jalapeno from the score.
Thanks for stopping by and reading this review, and thanks again to Ellie for letting me guest post! Have you read Golden Son? What did you think? Do you agree with my points? Disagree? Let me know in the comments below!