As a novelist, I realize I’m supposed to keep some level of analytical distance in order to critique to structure, form, plot, pacing, character development, etc., but for the RED RISING series, my button-pushing brain simply shuts off about five pages in — much as it does with the GAME OF THRONES series. Like an amoeba surrounding a hapless paramecium, Pierce Brown’s debut series simply engulfs me.
The single best thing I can say about GOLDEN SON and the series is this: I wish I could live in this world. Which is weird, considering the obscene body count. Please do not call the suicide hotline for me, I am fine. There must be a lot of characters, because after the flesh-rending, dismembering blood bath that is GOLDEN SON I’m kind of surprised there is anyone left for Brown to write about for Book III.
GOLDEN SON is about an elegant ruling class getting down to the base business of brutality. Imagine the palace intrigue of George R.R. Martin’s masterpiece wrapped up in neo-Roman and faux-Greek culture, then encased in the hard plastic of scifi, and you’ve got a sense of what this series brings to the table.
The RED RISING trilogy has a key similarity to the sensational, soon-to-be-on-SyFy, “Expanse Series” by James S. A. Corey — the star-spanning scifi only spans one star: ours*. RED RISING and GOLDEN SON take place in our solar system, which gives it a realistic atmosphere, even a “rustic” feel if that’s possible with spaceships that have yet to be invented. There are no “desert planets” or “water planets,” there are just “planets,” planets that we have read about all our lives, planets complete with diverse ecosystems and myriad sub-cultures that are supposed to be parts of an integrated whole but writhe and grind against each other like chipped paving stones moved slightly ajar by decades of endless traffic and countless freeze/thaw cycles. Brown’s trilogy is less Galactic South Beach and much more Universal Rust Belt. The great minds and makers who created this structure are long since worm-food, and the majesty they constructed is soon to collapse under its own weight. The sense that we are on the brink of collapse, conflagration and shattering rebirth bleeds from every page.
The one knock on GOLDEN SON is that I lost track of the characters from RED RISING. Brown doesn’t re-introduce characters in Book II as much as he continues them from where he left off in Book I. Too much time passed between books for me and I had trouble keeping track of Brown’s extensive pantheon of characters. If you’ve read the first book, I strongly suggest you re-read it before diving into GOLDEN SON. Re-reading Book I might take a wee bit of time, but that book totally rocks and reading it will let you slide right into Book II without missing a beat: well worth the investment.
Like RED RISING before it, GOLDEN SON captures that elusive laurel of fiction: I just didn’t want it to end. It does end, and yet it does not — as book two in a trilogy, the story will continue in Book III, tentatively titled MORNING STAR. I can’t wait.
*(Book I of the Expanse series, LEVIATHAN WAKES, will destroy your productivity and erase many valuable hours of your life — you have been warned).