I try not to give too many five-star reviews. I think they should be earned, and rare. So I’m feeling a little guilty giving my first review of 2015, five stars. Makes me seem soft in my ratings.
But in the case of Golden Son, it is wholly deserved. The second entry in Pierce Brown’s violent, political space opera builds on the strengths of his debut Red Rising and sets a bar for everything else coming out this year.
The second novel in a trilogy is usually considered weaker — the author pulls out the stops to hook the reader in the beginning, then the story slumps before a thrilling climax in the third.
When we last left Darrow, the lowly Red slave who was recruited to lead a rebellion after his wife was hanged, he had successfully infiltrated the Gold society, the highest caste in the heavily stratified social system of Mars. He had conquered the brutal, Lord of the Flies-esque Institute and been marked as a peerless scarred — the Reaper, the best of the best. He had seen his best friend swear vengeance on him, and been recruited to serve the man who hanged his wife, ArchGovernor Augustus.
The novel kicks off with Darrow in the Academy, a flight training school where he is learning to lead a ship’s crew in hopes of gaining a captaincy in the interplanetary fleet. Two years have passed, he has lost contact with his friends Sevro and Mustang, but is still proving to be the best and brightest of the peerless scarred.
His fortunes quickly turn, however, and he finds he can no longer delay the Reaper’s mission of vengeance and toppling Gold society. Betrayals beget betrayals, and soon Darrow is leading a rag-tag group of his friends from the Institute in a rebellion against the ruling council of the Solar System.
He’s also learning to love again as he grows closer to Augustus’ daughter, the idealistic Mustang.
While Red Rising felt like a YA novel, indeed it’s often compared to Ender’s Game and The Hunger Games, Golden Son is pure, classic space opera. The stage is bigger, the stakes higher, and the battles grander. The violence hasn’t slaked, but it feels more purposeful — this isn’t teenagers hacking and raping each other to determine who is king of the mountain, Darrow is leading a rebellion that will impact the lives of everyone in the galaxy.
Brown paces Golden Son perfectly. The novel rises and falls, building to a thunderous crescendo in the final pages. Plenty of secrets are exposed and questions are answered, but Brown still leaves the reader breathless and hungering for more as the book ends.
Okay authors, the pace has been set, we have our leading contender for best of 2015 — let’s see some more magnificence.
Golden Son hits stores on Tuesday, January 6.