Serena’s Rev-Up Review: “Golden Son”

Golden SonIn anticipation of my up-coming review of the recently released “Morning Star,” the final book in Pierce Brown’s “Red Rising” trilogy, I thought I would go ahead and post reviews for the two previous books in the series. Just so we’re all caught up and ready for what promises to be an action-packed conclusion! Here’s my review of the second book in the trilogy.

Book: “Golden Son” by Pierce Brown

Publishing Info: Del Rey, January 2015

Where Did I Get this Book: Bought

Book Description from Goodreads: 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.

Inevitable spoilers for “Red Rising.”

Review: Oh, look! Publishers have now added “Game of Thrones” to the list of books this series resembles! Except for space. And a color-based hierarchy. And set in the future of our current world. And a single, first person narrator. Wait…

“Golden Son” starts with a significant jump in time. This was very unexpected. As the series was initially marketed as young adult, it is usually customary for the story to pick up immediately where the previous book left off. However, for this series, I think it really works. “Red Rising” ends with Darrow being fully accepted into the Gold society, triumphant after his overthrow of the battle school system, and moving on to the next level of his training under the tutelage of his nemesis, Nero au Augustus. I suspect that Brown may have caught on to the lessons learned by “Catching Fire:” readers don’t necessarily appreciate “Sequel: Battle School 2.0.” So the decision to skip the majority of Darrow’s time going through this process is not only unexpected but appreciated. We are introduced to a recognizable, but extremely more confident and assertive Darrow who has fully come into his own without needing to experience every growing pain along the way.

The downside of this decision is that readers are immediately plopped into the middle of a very complex story. There are new characters everywhere (this isn’t helped by the use of difficult, Roman-inspired names like “Victra” and “Pliny” who are hard to keep track of). The story is also much more firmly set within a science fiction landscape. While “Red Rising” was considered a science fiction work, the majority of the plot took place on the planet and in an environment that resembled Earth in many ways, advanced technology aside. This story takes place in space with a capital “S.” There are battles between space ships, scenes set on different planets and moons, and space jumps similar to the kind seen in the 2009 remake “Star Trek.” If you were hoping for more sci-fi, Brown delivers.

Darrow remains an interesting protagonist. There are a few times in this book, however, where he makes decisions and acts in a way that, as a reader, you’re just shouting “Darrow, noooo!” It’s like when you’re watching a horror movie and you just know that that character shouldn’t go down into the basement. Why won’t they just listen to good sense? And Mustang? Mustang is the good sense Darrow doesn’t listen to. My concerns from the previous book regarding the use of female characters are addressed here. Mustang continues to be my favorite character, and there are several other female characters introduced who play vital roles to the story. Victra, especially, is a great addition as a scathing, broken Gold who, clearly against her will, befriends Darrow.

One other odd bit: the book is written in such a way that it seems like it would be an effortless translation from page to screen. However, the types of revelations that come naturally to film play oddly within the structure of the book. There is a moment later in the book when a shocking plot point is introduced in a way that feels a bit unnatural. It should, and does, come out of left field for those around Darrow. But we’ve been living in his head for the past 200 pages with no reference to this information, even though facts that tie into it have been mentioned often. So it reads like a great movie reveal. But it’s weird when you’re reading a first person narrative where information should be as known to the reader as it is to the narrator (unless the author is writing an unreliable narrator, but that’s not the case here). The plot point is fun, it’s just the way it’s introduced that feels strange.

“Golden Son” expands Brown’s world in every way. The reader’s understanding of how this society operates and spans a solar system is grown and the political mechanisms at work to sustain such a web are fully explored. A final downside? Cliffhanger alert. But, luckily, “Morning Star” was published early this year, so that’s a relief.

Rating 7: Very good, slightly lower than “Red Rising” due to a challenging balancing act between so many new components and character motivations

Reader’s Advisory:

“Golden Son” is included in these Goodreads lists: “Best Picks: Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Novels of 2015” and “Can’t Wait Sci-Fi/Fantasy of 2015.”

Find “Golden Son” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Rev-Up Review: “Red Rising”

Red RisingIn anticipation of my up-coming review of the recently released “Morning Star,” the final book in Pierce Brown’s “Red Rising” trilogy, I thought I would go ahead and post reviews for the two previous books in the series. Just so we’re all caught up and ready for what promises to be an action-packed conclusion! Here’s my review of the first book in the trilogy.

Book: “Red Rising”

Publishing Info: Del Rey, January 2014

Where Did I Get this Book: Splurge! I bought it.

Book Description from Goodreads: Darrow is a Red, a member of the lowest caste in the color-coded society of the future. Like his fellow Reds, he works all day, believing that he and his people are making the surface of Mars livable for future generations.

But Darrow and his kind have been betrayed. Soon he discovers that humanity already reached the surface generations ago. Vast cities and sprawling parks spread across the planet. Darrow—and Reds like him—are nothing more than slaves to a decadent ruling class.

Inspired by a longing for justice, and driven by the memory of lost love, Darrow sacrifices everything to infiltrate the legendary Institute, a proving ground for the dominant Gold caste, where the next generation of humanity’s overlords struggle for power. He will be forced to compete for his life and the very future of civilization against the best and most brutal of Society’s ruling class. There, he will stop at nothing to bring down his enemies… even if it means he has to become one of them to do so.

Review: This book was marketed as a cross between “The Hunger Games” and “Ender’s Game.” I liked “The Hunger Games” and loved “Ender’s Game,” so I was pretty sold. (Of course, this book also came out during a time when all YA books published that had even a whiff of dystopian influences were marketed as “THE NEXT HUNGER GAMES OMG.” So I was understandably skeptical of this claim.) However, for once, this marketing ploy wasn’t far off and actually followed through with its promise!

This book is fast paced. You meet Darrow, an unambitious family man (yes, he’s also a teenager, but hey, dystopia world!) who is content to live his life as a Helldiver, a risky role where he operates a clawDrill that bores into Mars’ core in an effort to terraform the planet for human life on the surface. Two seconds later, tragedy has struck, he’s been recruited to a rebel organization, and is a sleeper spy caught up in political intrigue within a  tyrannical society that spans the solar system. A society that uses an elaborate death school to identify the leaders in its elite youth. Hence: “Hunger Games in Space!”

The world building is impressive. The combination of a complex hierarchical system based on colors (Blues work in the medical field, Green are tech, etc. with Gold ruling over the lot), plus a sci-fi backdrop on Mars, with many creative uses of technology, leaves the reader constantly wondering what will come next and how these pieces will all fit together. Brown is clearly having a blast with this world, and his appreciation of staple works in the sci fi/fantasy genre  is expressed with a fun smattering of Easter eggs for fans to fish out.

Darrow is also a fantastic protagonist. At one point as I was reading, I started to become concerned that he was going to turn into the typical, hero-journey character that neatly ticks the boxes in his predictable path to becoming the savior of the people. But, luckily, his flaws are highlighted and there are enough wrenches thrown into the plot to defy expectation and keep things interesting.

And his companion, Mustang, is amazing. I want a companion series all about her. My one concern, however, is that in this book she seems to operate as the token “strong woman” character with several other female characters sliding into obscurity. And worse, at one point there comes a bit that strikes too closely to using violence against women purely for shock value. My biggest hope for this series is that it improves in this area.

All in all, I highly enjoyed “Red Rising.” The book is obviously setting up a trilogy but is also enjoyable on its own. Stay tuned for my review of “Golden Son” coming soon.

Rating 8: Very good, fun sci fi read

Reader’s Advisory:

“Red Rising” is included in these Goodreads lists: “Best Science Fiction of the 21st Century” and “YA Novels of 2014.”

Find “Red Rising” at your library using WorldCat!