Thanks to Random House Publishing Group Del Rey Spectra and NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read this preprint. I received no perks for posting my honest and unbiased review.
The Red Rising Trilogy by Pierce Brown has been billed as a mix of Hunger Games, Game of Thrones and Ender’s Game, but I think that does a disservice to Red Rising and its sequel, Golden Son. (Disclaimer: I have read none of these other series, though I have seen the movies/television series that were inspired by these works). This is because I think Brown has managed to create something that uniquely and more successfully combines these elements, while taking on the timely themes of classism, violence, revolution, and corruption. I’m going to do a quick reminder of my opinion of Red Rising, then I’ll dive into Golden Son:
Red Rising Brown began this trilogy with a bang last January. I read through it in a couple of days. I had mixed feelings. I loved the clever references to Greek mythology, the complexity of Darrow’s situation as he must become something he despises in order to overthrow it, and Brown’s rhythmic writing style. It did take me a little bit to really get into Brown’s cadence and word choice, but it flowed elegantly, speeding up gradually until the climax. However, at times I found myself being overwhelmed by what felt like gratuitous violence. This is the same reason I didn’t make it past the first season of Game of Thrones. It’s exhausting to be horrified every time you turn the page, so much so that you can find yourself not even noticing. I don’t particularly like that because I think when we are no longer horrified by the depths to which humans can sink, we can lose ourselves. Given time, I now wonder if that might have been Brown’s point all along. When society as a whole is based on classism that dehumanizes others, violence that is required to gain a place in society, and corrupt underhanded dealings necessary to succeed, the events of Red Rising are what can happen. I’ve read some that say that Darrow instead glorifies these actions, but I don’t think that’s true. He’s constantly disgusted and conflicted by the actions he must take to get to a place where he can change society. And the people that remain loyal to him do so because of his kindnesses and the fact that he treats everyone as a human, not for his ruthlessness. These themes become more apparent in the next installment.
Golden Son The comparisons to Ender’s Game become more apparent in Golden Son, where we travel to other planets with Darrow, now a full-fledged Gold just finishing the Academy, where he’s training to lead armies across space. Where Red Rising focuses on violence and classism, Golden Son focuses more on corruption, lies, the media and prejudice. Of course, there’s still lots of violence. It is a defining aspect of the Golds, after all. But we also see more of the other colors, and get an even better feeling for how entrenched all the Colors are in their class system. Brown takes the opportunity to explore whether a revolution should continue if those it would benefit also don’t seem in favor of it. Brown also threw more heartwrenching twists – many caused by loyalties broken and lies being revealed – ending the book on a cliffhanger that came out of nowhere. I have to say that this time it took me no effort at all to step into the writing style, it rushed along at the same headlong speed, but it didn’t feel as wrong to me this time. Perhaps it was Brown’s skill having improved. Or maybe I was prepared for it this time. Either way, it was a speedy read, and an enjoyable one. I know the first one was fairly well-written, but Golden Son stood out to me as having better interaction and dialogue between characters. Brown also displayed a more deft hand with inserting scenes meant to highlight his chosen themes without slowing the plot. And the cliffhanger ending is leaving me wishing it was already 2016, when I expect *fingers crossed* the next installment will come out, if Brown holds to the present publication pattern. Bottom Line I personally love the series. Darrow is a fatally flawed hero, but I find myself rooting for him even when his actions seem villainous. I think classism is an extremely important problem we are already finding ourselves grappling with, and I like that Brown is offering a complex view of it in his world. Characters argue for it, while others argue against it, but only the reader can decide whether they think Darrow’s fight to end it is right. The drawback for many will be the violence. The books are quite blood-soaked, and the many and varied ways blood is spilled in this series are graphically and horrifically described. But despite my gut reaction to Red Rising, I’ve realized that I’m okay with the way Brown handles it. Yes, the violence is brutal, but that is just another issue he has chosen to tackle. Before you pick up this book, or any book, you have to understand what you are getting into. For me, the violence makes sense in the context of the society that Brown has created. It’s brutal and terrible and makes up a large part of the reason that it’s time for Reds – and other classes – to rise up and break the chains. The inner turmoil Darrow faces with each act of violence he takes part in is deeper and more realistic when that violence is truly terrible and is something we can see, even if we wish we hadn’t. Speaking of characters, that’s another thing Brown excels at: Each character is so three-dimensional that they almost fly off the page, Razor in hand and GravBoots on. For these reasons, I think it’s a great read.