Darrow the Helldiver is back in Golden Son, the second book in the Red Rising series by Pierce Brown. You might have heard of this series; it was popular before it even became published with reviewers actually begging for advance review copies. I was lucky enough to get a copy of Red Rising before it hit bookstores, and then I found out why it was so bloodydamn popular.
Quick recap: In Red Rising, Darrow grew up in the mines of Mars. He belonged to the lowReds, the lowest class of society. For generations his fellow Reds had been digging in the mines for the gas needed to terraform Mars and secure future generations above ground. But they had been lied to. When his wife was executed for singing a simple but rebellious song, Darrow was pulled into a group of rebels who showed him the truth: Mars had already been terraformed and vast cities stretched across its surface filled with the rest of society’s members. Through genetic manipulation and “carving”, they turned Darrow into a Gold, a member of the ruling class. He was entered into a brutal institute where his anger was enough to propel him to the top of the class. This wasn’t a normal school – he had to do anything to get to the top, even kill.
In Golden Son, Darrow is off to a rocky start, or so we think. If you remember anything about Darrow it should be that he always knows what’s coming before anyone else. The reader is always left dazzled when Darrow surprises us with another clever fake-out that we never see coming.
After winning ArchPrimus at the Institute of Mars, he is hand-selected to become a member of House Augustus led by Nero au Augustus, the ArchGovernor of Mars and killer of Darrow’s wife. It was his plan to enter this house in his new golden disguise and bring down the entire society from within. But things aren’t going as originally planned. After losing the final battle at the Academy to Karnus au Bellona, a planned assassination attempt by House Bellona (Darrow killed a Bellona at the Institute), Darrow falls out of favor with Augustus. His contract is terminated and put up for auction, which basically means a death warrant for Darrow since the Bellonas want him dead.
On the final night of Darrow’s contract which happened to terminate at the Lunar gala hosted by Octavia Au Lune, the ruling Sovereign of all society, Darrow picks a fight with Cassius au Bellona, a staged fight for his honor, all while feigning absolute devotion to House Augustus. It was an act, but his intentions were absolute – he wanted to pick a fight and start a war. Before Darrow can deliver the coup de grâce, an epic battle breaks out between House Bellona and House Augustus and any other house who had grievances to settle. It was an all-out slaughter.
Darrow manages to get Augustus and his surviving house members out of the gala and back to his quarters but there are too many legions of Gold supporting Octavia, who in turn support the Bellona family. Discovering the Octavia au Lune meant to have the entire Augustus House slaughtered at the gala (something he already seemed to know), he is able to get most of them to safety by exposing her plans. Back in the good graces of House Augustus, he takes control of their assets to begin offensive maneuvers against Octavia and House Bellona along with his former buddies-of-glory from the Institute: Mustang, Sevro and the Howlers, Roque and, surprisingly, the Jackal, Nero’s son who tried to kill Darrow at the Institute.
There are so many facets to this book, this series, that are undeniably fascinating. The caste system of society is color-coded but it’s their genetic creation which makes it all so spectacular. The Golds are the rulers, extremely intelligent and ruthless. The Reds are the hard laborers at the bottom. There are the Pinks (pleasure partners who experience pain unless serving), the Blues (pilots and navigators – logical with little humor), and the Obsidians (monsters bred for war), among many others. Each one is genetically engineered for their station while cross-breeding is strictly prohibited – execution is enforced.
“Slaves do not have the bravery of free men. That is why the Golds lie to the lowReds and make them think they are brave. That is why they lie to the Obsidians and make them think it is an honor to serve Gods. Easier than the truth. Yet it takes only one truth to bring a kingdom of lies crashing down.”
This is Darrow’s long-term goal. He is going to free all of the classes by creating a civil war, let everything fall apart, and be the one to pick up the piece in the end – if he survives. Everyone wants his head. With old-world court intrigues set in a science-fiction interplanetary battle, who are the traitors within House Augustus and who can be trusted?
Along with that feel of an old royal court, and the bustling activity of a high-stakes science-fiction novel, there is also mythology that drips from every page. The Golds have made themselves Gods among men and like the Greek Gods of old, they quarrel with each other and use men and women as pawns while sitting high in their Parthenon. Darrow has become like a demi-God at this point. But these Gods – they can bleed, and they can fall.
“Tradition is the crown of the tyrant. I eye all the Golds in their badges and Sigils and standards, all worn to legitimize corrupt reign, and to alienate the people. Make them feel they watch a species beyond their comprehension.”
Like before, Darrow doesn’t stop planning, scheming, fighting… He doesn’t stop. A force to be reckoned with. Golden Son is a brilliant ride and so intense, you might not be able to put it down at night. Get some coffee in the morning and hang in there.
by Pierce Brown