A sequel to Red Rising and a middle book in the planned trilogy, Golden Son is, to borrow the novel’s own speak, a bloodydamn great improvement on its predecessor and does everything a sequel should do. It broadens the scope and stakes, introduces new memorable characters and deepens the old ones, while also being very exciting to read.
At the end of the first book, our hero Darrow, a lowborn Red at the very bottom of the society’s pyramid disguised as one of the ruling Golds, firmly embeds himself into the caste he means to bring down, and makes a name for himself as one of its brightest rising stars. Along the way, he makes friends as well as sworn enemies, and encounters an unlikely chance of a second great love in his life. At the start of the book, two years have passed since and Darrow seems on a verge of yet another triumph which will bring him closer to real power and his ultimate goal of overturning the society. But things go well and truly pear-shaped, and Darrow looks to lose everything he’s worked for while his enemies are sharpening their blades in anticipation.
If Red Rising was a bit like Hunger Games on Mars, then this book is a bit like Game of Thrones in Space (minus nudity and sex, surprisingly so for a world that has an entire class of people bred specifically for sensual pleasures). It’s chockful of plot twists, blood feuds, screwed up families, intrigue, betrayals and shocking and nasty violence galore. If anything sometimes the plot twists come on too quickly: just when it looks like there’s an intriguing new course set for Darrow, boom shit happens and everything changes again. Also, there was one particular development near the end which I felt was a tad too convenient – it takes you out of the story when the plotting mechanism is exposed too much and something feels like it happens purely so that this other important thing could happen later on. My main complaint with the first book was that it kept most of the action confined to a small corner of the world I was itching to explore, which is not an issue here because now there are giant spaceships in this story baby! We also learn more about some of the other Colours, most notably Blues and Obsidians, and there’s more of the cool future technologies and weapons. I also appreciated the fact that the fighting/action scenes, of which there are many in this book, didn’t feel repetitive and were easy to follow. If there’s ever a movie adaptation, they should make for some spectacular stuff.
Darrow must make some terrible decisions in order to survive and advance, and the novel does a good job portraying the costs of his mission, as well as the tricky relationships with his Gold friends. He has a genuine affection for them and is ready to risk his life for their sakes, but he also must manipulate them at times, and his secret creates a yawning gulf that some of his closest friends can’t help but feel. If there’s a problem in this series it’s that, despite him narrating the whole thing, I still have frustratingly little sense of Darrow as a person and for the most part it was hard to have a true emotional connection with his character. That said, the last 50 pages of the book have some of the most moving scenes in the series so far and it finishes with an ice cold bucket of a cliffhanger which made me realise that I got attached to Darrow after all. Sheesh writers, you can’t just finish your book with something like this and make me wait months for the next installment! It should be illegal or something.