I hope you like surprises. I don’t mean twists. Twists grow out of a divergent interpretation of events than perhaps you had been led to expect. I don’t mean close the medicine cabinet gotchas making you jump at the shocking thing revealed in the mirror. I mean your cab driver is taking you to the movies but then suddenly hits the gas and swerves into oncoming traffic because it turns out that he is in the employ of your powerful arch enemy bent on destroying you, but that’s okay, because you had suspected your enemy would do just this and so you had secretly outfitted this cab to be remotely controlled by a device you have with you in the back seat, though you had not shared any of this in your first person narrative of these events until you are guiding the foiled death cab back into safety. That’s the sort of surprise you’ll experience again and again in Golden Son, the second book in Pierce Brown’s Red Rising Trilogy.
As much as there is to really enjoy in Golden Son – political intrigue which is often inspired and never plodding, vivid characters who hold tight to their core even as that core evolves within them, and the loyalty our hero Darrow inspires among the lower caste members by allowing them to choose to serve him – how you feel about the multitude of surprises will ultimately determine the impression this book leaves with you. There are just so many of them and they swing so hard.
They are interesting surprises to be sure. Any one of them alone would have given a solid jolt to a similar novel, but as bloody scheme materializes after bloody scheme, I started to feel how inorganic and ultimately arbitrary each surprise was. It felt like Mr. Brown so enjoyed the Red Wedding in George R.R. Martin’s A Storm of Swords that he thought Golden Son would work great as a long series of Red Weddings. Well, not quite. While Martin’s characters have a cornucopia of tricks up their sleeves, their machinations are always exposed. We see them preparing and plotting. We see the pieces even if we don’t feel the awe of their import until the awful axe falls.
In Golden Son I felt that Darrow, who is not only our hero but our first person narrator, was hiding his plans from me. Then I felt he wasn’t hiding anything. It was just that nothing was foreshadowed because he didn’t know what he was planning, either, because maybe, just maybe, the author didn’t know, not until he needed something big to happen and so he made something big happen. These events caused me to suspect the book was written a little too quickly, that perhaps Brown would have liked to redraft and backfill and presage some of his momentous turns, but the publisher's deadlines loomed and as a young author he didn’t feel empowered to request more time for the benefit of the book. I wanted to give Brown the benefit of that doubt, because so often the book is otherwise so good.
Golden Son is more than just a book of surprises. The flow of the war those surprises are serving gripped its hooks into me. I want to see how Darrow might possibly succeed, given that the second book of this trilogy leaves him in a position middle parts of a trilogy often leave their protagonists. I want to see what is in store for this world. It’s a deep and expansive solar system in the future realm of the Red Rising trilogy, a realm peopled with characters who demand attention and concern. The few characters that are still alive have the fate of a millennium old society dependent on their efforts.
Pierce Brown put this world in my head and now I care about it, even if I feel like he’s cheating sometimes. The final book, Morning Star, is scheduled to come out in January of 2016 and I will be picking up a copy as soon as it’s available. But if Del Rey decides the book would be better with more time and delays its release six months to a year, I won’t complain.