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Golden Son

8 Feb 2015

Golden Son
Any sequel to a novel must navigate carefully between a tedious repeat of the first book's success and a departure so great as to negate the value of a follow-on story. Golden Son, Pierce Brown's second book in the trilogy begun with Red Rising, walks this line carefully.

For the uninitiated, Red Rising begins the story of an attempted revolution against Mars' oppressive caste system. Mars' denizens die in the color-coded career caste to which they are born. In this system the lowest are the Reds, the miners of Mars, and the highest are the Golds, the kings, princes, and generals constantly jockeying for power on Mars and throughout the solar system.

Recruited for this revolution is Darrow, a young Red whose supposed death provides cover for his conversion. Darrow is genetically, cosmetically, and bionically enhanced to pass as a Gold, with a cover story straight out of the CIA playbook.

In the first book Darrow is sent to a training school that becomes, as the story drags on, suspiciously similar to a medieval knights fantasy. Only at that point do we start worrying about we have wandered, quit unintentionally, into a well-disguised YA novel. As that book continues we eventually realize, along with Darrow, that it is no fairy tale and that the competition for domination of the entire solar system, not just Mars, has for them already begun. He survives at the end by allying himself to the Mars-dominating house of Augustus.

From the start Golden Son turns this medieval fantasy into a space opera, wherein the wars of the first book are writ large across terraformed Mars and Lune (Earth's moon), with implications for sovereign control of all. The transportation, tools and weapons have all the tech we expect of a story set 700 or more years in the future, which allows for far greater situational variety than we saw the first time around.

As time and action continue, we the readers wonder along with Darrow whether the revolution, personified by the near-mythical Sons of Ares, still exists. Does he still have a duty to the Sons, or is he now on his own? He has good reason to wonder, but as the wars continue, the look of the final battle for domination begins to take shape. The battles are every bit as political as military, with prominent members of ruling clans constantly struggling for position, sometimes forsaking parents and siblings in the process.

I found Rising Son far more robust read than Red Rising. Red dragged in places as the true point of its story took uncertain turns, but we find nothing uncertain about the story of Golden Son. Red left me wondering whether I really wanted to read the sequel but, having read it, I look forward to the series wrap-up. Note: this series has been compared to Hunger Games, Ender's Game, and Game of Thrones. I find it superior to all of them. Warning: If you dive into this book without reading the first book, you will find you are in over your head.

You may also like this related article: Sci-Fi Book Notes (194)
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