BOOK REVIEW: Golden Son, by Pierce Brown

-Hold up! This is a sequel. Find my review of Red Rising here-

golden son.jpg

Series: Red Rising (#2)

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

Genre: Grimdark SF

Pages: 442

Publication Date: 2015

Verdict: 4/5

 

Darrow has infiltrated Gold society, and now rises rapidly through their ranks. But even a Gold is not safe from danger, and conspiracies abound. Conspiracies that Darrow must exploit if he is to bring about revolution . . .

The first hundred pages of Golden Son are an abrupt shift of gears from Red Rising. So much of what was set up in that previous book either has already happened and been glossed over. It reads almost as if Brown changed his mind about what would happen in this sequel. But after this jarring start, Golden Son finds its footing and climbs the corpse-strewn mountain of grimdark science fiction.

My big complaint about Red Rising was the tonal difference between Young Adult presentation and very much adult content. Jumping ahead two years, Golden Son falls squarely on the adult side of things, stripping away almost all of those YA trappings. The romance is still stilted and some of the archetypes have a YA flavour, but overall this is a much more mature book. It is also incredibly brutal. Brown is at his best when mutilating characters and butchering innocents, and if you shy away from violence this is most definitely not the book for you. Personally, I love the blood and gore, and it stays just the right side of the line into pure splatterpunk.

Golden Son paints a marvellously bloody tale of revolution and pain, but my enjoyment of the book comes with one caveat. And it’s a big one. In order to enjoy the story, I had to turn my brain off. Because when my brain was fully functional, too many things pulled me out of the story. These boil down into too main categories. Prose and worldbuilding.

Starting with the prose, I want to first say that Brown’s writing grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go. I just wish he was better at naming things. I like immersive wordcraft, and I don’t mind jargon and new terms. Too many things in the Red Rising universe are named simply by smashing words together. The ArchGovernor is a title that makes sense. Personally I think it should be two words, but I can deal with that. But then there are GravBoots, FlakScreen, FleshMask. Just ramming two words into one feels more like a placeholder than a final name, and capitals in the middle of words are always going to throw me out of the narrative.

The other problem is the worldbuilding. In this book we get a closer look at Gold Society, how it all balances on a knife edge and is base don ruthless exploitation of anything and everything. I get that it’s necessary to make them monsters, but I just don’t see how this society has endured for centuries. It’s not as though it’s sliding into chaos. It has clearly been this way since its inception. As a reader who puts a lot of expectation on worldbuilding, Golden Son was always going to disappoint me.

There are a lot of flaws, maybe more than there are things I liked, but if you like bone-crunching violence and crushing defeats, then Golden Son will deliver, and I don’t regret investing in the series.

Published by Alex Hormann

I'm a writer, reader, and farmer, with an interest in all things speculative.

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