Spoilers ahead! This is a dive into the second novel of the Red Rising series, Golden Son. If you have not read my review of Red Rising, you can find it here.
In his first novel, Pierce Brown hit the ground running. Red Rising was a fantastic success, somehow breaching the line that borders both adult and young adult science fiction. Young Darrow, once a slave, has achieved more than he or any of his mentors thought possible. Like Darrow, Pierce Brown aimed high and as successful as his first novel was – it was Golden Son that truly hit the mark. Golden Son is one of the most exciting sequels I have ever read. From a single world self-contained and planet bound. We now look to the stars and see an entire galaxy broadened before us. Pierce Brown’s storytelling is masterful. His prose is as taut, and cuts like a razor.
In Mud You Lie
Everything in Golden Son becomes bigger, bolder, and more dangerous than we ever thought they could be. If Red Rising is Icarus, Golden Son is the International Space Station. More than two years have passed since leaving behind the Institute of Mars, and Darrow has been a Lancer for House Augustus since. In that two years, not one word from the Sons of Ares has been heard, not one word from Mustang or any of his friends. Darrow is training at the Academy, learning how to lead massive space cruisers and warships.
Brown doesn’t waste much of anyone’s time, and this book fires off with a loud bang and the engines are redlining for a couple hundred pages. Darrow is quickly taken down from his high esteemed position to new lows. Given three days notice that his contract with House Augustus is being sold for his catastrophic failure at the Academy, he meets with Victra and the Jackal, the latter who offers to buy Darrow’s contract while they discuss options of bringing down the Sovereign and destroying the Sons of Ares. During the conversation, an old friend from Darrow’s post carving shows up, the pink, Evey, posing as a lure for the Jackal. Darrow takes a moment and joins Evey, he learns that she’s planted bombs around the entire building solely to kill the Jackal. Rushing back to save him, Darrow narrowly escapes with his and the Jackals life intact, though some 200 low Colors are killed in the explosion.
Disgusted with this wanton cruelty and loss of life, Darrow is ushered by Evey to see his former trainer, Harmony. Harmony informs Darrow that Dancer is dead, and she seems to be running the Sons of Ares now. Harmony is upfront in her admission that she has been the cause of the numerous terrorist bombings which have been on the news lately, and offers Darrow a chance to help. There’s an upcoming gala where all the leaders of Gold Society will be in attendance, Harmony wants Darrow to blow the whole thing with a radium bomb, killing everyone, including himself. A way to cut off all the heads of the Hydra that is Gold. Darrow refuses to be apart of her sacrificial, suiciding schemes until Haromy shows him a clip of his wife’s hanging that has an audio feed with it. Here Darrow learns what his wife Eo said to her sister before she died, asking her to hide a crib from Darrow so that he never learns that she was pregnant when he pulls her little ankles to break her neck in the low gravity death sentence. In his rage and horror, a broken Darrow agrees to Harmony’s plan.
The turmoil of being a terrorist suicide bomber isn’t sitting well with Darrow, he has grown fond of many of his so-called enemies. When meeting with Roque in his personal rooms, Darrow looks for guidance. He asks Roque if he ever feels lost, and muses on the fact that Roque is one of the few people he’s ever known to thoughtfully answer the question. Afterward, Roque admits to Darrow that he is his closest friend and that he will bid on Darrow’s contract to protect him from those with malicious intent. Roque loves Darrow like a brother, and right before they were to leave for the gala, Darrow renders him unconscious with a syringe embedded in his ring to prevent him from attending the event, saving his life.
“Friendships take minutes to make, moments to break, years to repair.”
Something is off when Darrow and his company arrive on Luna, Darrow decides against the suicide bombing, preventing the death of hundreds, if not thousands of Golds and low Colors alike. At this point in the novel, it doesn’t come as a surprise that Darrow chooses not to follow through, though our protagonist is growing darker as a character to have even considered killing everyone and himself at the event. In the depths of his despair and pain, and sensing a plot unseen by others, Darrow hatches a new plan. In a grandiose show of stupidity and barbarism, Darrow marches along the tabletops and challenges the newest Olympic Knight – the Morning Knight – his old friend Cassius au Bellona in a duel to the death. After the performance Darrow puts on, it’s not hard for Cassius to accept. After several feints, back and forth attacks, Darrow reveals he is the last apprentice of the former Rage Knight, Lorn au Arcos, with whom he would train with the Razor every day before his training at the Academy. Every day Cassius spent sleeping in, Darrow was training. Everyday Cassius spent with Pinks fulfilling fantasies, Darrow was training. His Razor work is that of an artist, and his paint is blood red.
Darrow severely wounds Cassius, cutting his arm off entirely, thick golden bone snapping like cracking oak. Moments before killing the man, Darrow is stopped by the Sovereign, who breaks Society Law by intervening, and then before the killing blow can be dropped Mustang steps in front of him; but the damage is done. Chaos breaks out in the gala, the Bellona’s charge at Darrow and Augustus’ men. Dozens are killed and more are wounded before the familiar face of Fitchner finds Darrow and company and leads him to the Sovereign. The Sovereign offers Darrow a chance to join her, which he refuses, and during the deadly interview, Darrow traps her into a lie she cannot cover up. The Sovereign had planned for House Bellona to kill everyone at Arch Governor Augustus’ table, infuriating Mustang who is also in the room. Mustang understands the reasoning behind it, as Gold would.
“A fool pulls the leaves. A brute chops the trunk. A sage digs the roots.”
Herein lies the roots of Darrow’s plan to fracture Society. Civil War. It’s now out in the open that the leaders of Gold wanted to kill and cull house Augustus, the leader of Mars and his entire family, giving the planet to the more docile and Sovereign friendly house, Bellona. Cassius’ family. This is the Sovereign strong-arming her way into an easier and stable, prolonged reign of tyranny.
Darrow uses this to his advantage in ways that the Sons of Ares never imagined. Harmony wants carnage, death, and destruction. Darrow wants something better. How do you build a better civilization through mass casualties? How can you achieve something better if you use the same means that the oppressors have used against you for generations? The answer must be love, family, friends, and trust.
“We are not our station in life. We are us – the sum of what we’ve done, what we want to do, and the people who we keep close.”
If you must do terrible things, let them be done for the best reasons. Darrow was never meant to be a martyr, Darrow is the rage of all the low colors. He is the fire that cleanses through destruction. To show people that they are worth more than their station in life. To give them something worth fighting for. Something for their children. Eo’s vision.
“To free them, to protect them, we must be savages. So give me evil. Give me darkness. Make me the bloodydamn devil if we can bring even the faintest ray of light.”
Hic Sunt Leones
This is not a war Darrow can win on his own. He needs people with him, a lot of people. Society, as it stands now, was built over generations of genocide and slavery. The memory of planets not falling into line is still fresh, and the razing of an entire well-populated moon is close in the memories of everyone in the galaxy. The people closest to him, at some point, need to know what they are actually fighting for. Darrow has few friends he can actually trust in this war.
Sevro and the Howlers come to rescue Darrow at the last moment at the gala on Luna. Escaping with their comrades and one hostage, young Lysander, heir to the Sovereign. The war cruiser Vanguard shows up to intercept their escape. Darrow and Sevro volunteer to be shot out the launch tubes directly at the bridge of the ship and take over control. The first issue of command Darrow gives is for all the lower colors to overthrow their Golden leaders. Most do so gladly. Darrow gives command of the ship, renamed the Pax, to a mouthy Blue, Orion.
Sevro is Darrow’s closest and most loyal friend, and who acts as the soul of Darrow’s entire movement. He is a Gold, though shorter than most. Uglier than most, but as necessarily ruthless as them all. Sevro has a moral compass that points to his own true north, quick with wit and with the personal hygiene of a toddler, Sevro keeps a smile on the faces of all his friends and the reader alike for every scene he’s in. After taking over the Vanguard, Darrow changes the massive ships name to Pax. Darrow and Sevro are introduced to an Obsidian, a Stained, named Ragnar Volarus, after he kills four Golds and six Obsidians by himself.
Ragnar is a monster of a man, Stained – the strongest and deadliest of Obsidians, he is the son of Alia Snowsparrow, Queen of the Valkyrie, and brother to Sefi the Quiet. His sister swore a vow of silence the day Ragnar became a slave. Ragnar has been a slave of Gold for twenty-five years fighting and killing for their sport and entertainment. When Darrow takes over the Vanguard, Ragnar was on his way as a gift to another Gold. Ragnar views Darrow as a godchild of the Sun and offers himself and his Stains to Darrow, which he accepts.
Ragnar is the hope of Darrow’s movement. Hope that someone from a lower station can be looked at as a leader, hope that those who have been so wronged for so long can overcome the hate and hurt to do good for the galaxy.
Roque blames Darrow for the loss of Quinn, who was killed during the escape from Luna. He is very much untrusting of Darrow still because of what happened prior to the gala but is with him on this journey.
Roque is the trust that is required by all Golds. His station and family will be threatened by all Darrow wishes to achieve, if he can show Gold that it’s okay to trust, Society has a chance.
Victra has been advising Darrow since the Academy and remains extremely loyal. Oldest daughter from the Julii family, known for their famously powerful women. Victra attempts to be close to Darrow sexually, though Darrow rebuffs her and lets her know he doesn’t view her that way. They are become and stay close friends, hoping to get her mother to join their cause.
Victra is loyalty. You don’t have to know where you’re going, but if you’re loyal to those who matter to you, you’ll be where you belong.
Ares is still alive. Sevro lets Darrow know that Ares contacted him three months prior to his arrival on Luna. Sevro hands Darrow a whisper gem containing a message from Ares saying that Harmony has betrayed him and that Darrow did the right thing by not using the radium bomb at the gala. He informs Darrow that Dancer is alive and well, who comes into view and assures Darrow that his family is safe. It was in the same message that Sevro received three months ago that he found out Darrow is a Red. Dancer met up with Sevro and showed him the video of Darrow being carved, and Sevro tells Darrow that his loyalty remains forever, but that not everyone will be. Darrow breaks down crying and hugs Sevro, finally with someone who knows the burden he carries, someone he can lean on.
Ares is the spark that the entire lower Colors of humanity need to ignite a rebellion.
Mustang has been away from Darrow for a long couple of years. She tells Darrow about what she learned on Luna, and how she lured Cassius to fall in love with her in order to protect her family. Darrow isn’t interested in this conversation and the tone becomes bitter if not hostile. Mustang tells Darrow that he still can not trust her brother, Adrius, the Jackal and that they can win this war without him.
Mustang is the heart of Darrow’s rebellion. She is what Gold society can become. Warm, protective, and caring. Without her, the cause may be lost entirely.
The Arch Governor and Darrow need more people to join their cause. The Sovereign going to bring down the full weight of the Society on Mars, and numbers aren’t on Mars’ side. Darrow suggests taking all the students in the Institute as ransom, and capturing all the ships on the shipbuilding moon Ganymede. These actions, if their prior ones didn’t, will absolutely spark a war. The Arch Governor agrees to the plan, and Darrow also heads to his Razor master Lorn au Arcos to gain the allegiance of him and his armies.
Lorn au Arcos is a retired man who is living in peace after a lifetime of war. He rejects Darrow’s offer to join him, telling him that Aja and a death squad of Pretorians have been waiting for him to show up for a few days. Lorn offers Darrow a way off-planet, but Darrow refuses. He knew of the trap before showing up and makes it look like Lorn also knew of it, forcing his hand to join him. Tactus is with Aja, Sevro and the Howlers show up, and there is a small fight. Aja escapes, but Tactus finds where Lorn was hiding his family. Darrow and Lorn are at a standstill with Tactus, who talks about regretting his decision to betray Darrow. Darrow offers him another chance, and Tactus starts crying in Darrow’s arms, letting the grandchildren of Lorn go. The moment the children are out of harm’s way, Lorn kills Tactus, leaving him dying in Darrow’s arms.
Lorn is the Iron. He knows the consequences of what Gold has done and has been on the front lines of causing them. He knows what must happen to make the galaxy better. He has walked the path he wishes no one else to see. He guides through experience.
During the time Darrow and the Howlers were with Lorn, Pliny stages a coup. The Arch Governor and The Jackal are taken by Fitchner and Cassius, and the Sovereign knows of their plans to take the ships. While coming up with a plan, Darrow talks to Ragnar. Ragnar is a massive part of Darrow’s plan. He is the son of an Obsidian Queen. Though the early years of his harsh life and added years of slavery and cruelty have weathered Ragnar to believe he is nothing but Stained. Darrow tells him that he is a free man, and Ragnar is insulted that Darrow wouldn’t want him as a stained. Darrow must be able to trust him and decides to tell him that he was a Red. Darrow tells Ragnar that he doesn’t want a slave, he wants a brother.
Darrow takes the station Pliny was holding rather easily, freeing the prisoners. Pliny dies in the process, and Darrow calls for an Iron Rain. The Jackal broadcasts to the system that The Reaper is calling for an Iron Rain, the first in twenty years.
“I admire one to my left, the bronze sun is behind him as he falls, silhouetting him, immortalizing him in that singular moment—one I know I shall never forget—so that he looks like a Miltonian angel falling with wrath and glory. His exoskeleton sheds its friction armor, as Lucifer might have shed the fetters of heaven, feathers of flame peeling off, fluttering behind. Then a missile slashes the sky and high-grade explosives christen him mortal once again.”
Men fall from space. The Iron Rain falls upon Mars and the city of Agea. Many die before ever reaching the city walls. Ragnar gets a hold of two Razors and cuts the Wind Knight in half, and nearly kills Cassius. Darrow sees the Sovereign making an escape and cannot wait for his group to catch up. He gives chase and arrives in her ship as it’s taking off with no backup. He’s surrounded by Aja, Fitchner, Karnus, the Sovereign and her Praetorians. Karnus lunges forward, and Darrow kills him but is badly injured in the process. Fitchner steps forward, whispering to Darrow and revealing himself to be Ares. He shoots the Sovereigns guards, grabs Darrow, and escapes the ship.
A week goes by until Darrow regains consciousness. Mustang is there when he comes to and tells Darrow that Roque managed to capture the vast majority of the Bellona fleet. All of Cassius’ family is dead, but that he and his mother are missing. The Sovereign escaped and is still alive.
Darrow tries to mend things with Roque but is called away by Sevro telling him that The Jackal has captured Harmony, Evey, and Mickey. Darrow distracts The Jackal long enough for Sevro and a few others to act as Sons of Ares, rescuing the captured. Sevro and Darrow meet up with the Sons at a warehouse, where Fitchner is waiting with the Telemanuses and he tells how he became Ares after Sevro’s mother died, who was a Red.
Ares and Dancer tell Darrow that The Arch Governor Augustus will offer to adopt Darrow and make him his heir after all that Darrow has done. Augustus will not stop until the Sovereign is overthrown and becomes Sovereign himself, which places Darrow in a perfect position. Darrow is on board with the plan but doesn’t want to be kept in the dark from Ares anymore and Fitchner agrees. Before all this happens, Darrow wants to see his family in Lykos. He takes Mustang with him.
Darrow orders the Greys in the mines to bring food from his ship down to the people and allow them a feast. He watches the reds sing and dance and eat. Mustang finds him here in a contemplative state, wondering about the future of the Galaxy. Darrow walks into his old home and sits at the table, his mother recognizes him immediately even as a Gold. Mustang confronts Darrow outside his childhood home and feels like she has to kill Darrow to protect herself and her family. Ragnar is looming in the shadows and prevents her from doing so. Darrow tells Ragnar to lower his weapon, and Mustang walks away from the both of them.
Rise So High
Arch Governor Augustus hails Darrow a hero at a grand coronation in his honor. He offers Darrow to become his heir and Darrow accepts. Roque offers Darrow an Ivory box and in the process injects him with a paralyzing agent. Hell breaks loose. The Jackal and Roque have found out what Darrow is and have taken means into their own hands. Lorn au Arcos is killed. The Jackal shoots his father Augustus in the head. Victra is shot by her half-sister in the spine. Sevro, Mustang, Ragnar, and the Howlers hadn’t shown up yet. Cassius tells the paralyzed Darrow that he will hunt down his friends and kill the rest of them. Cassius opens the Ivory box and inside is the head of Fitchner au Barca, Ares, and the book ends.
Pierce Brown has done a marvelous job at upping the ante in book two of the Red Rising Series, a Space Opera of magnificent size and scope. Analyzing what it costs to bring freedom to a Society built upon cruelty and violence, slavery and genocide. Our heroes find themselves desperately treading thick water, finding a heavy Golden boot placed upon their heads. Will Darrow and his allies succeed in their quest to give freedom to the people of the Society? We’ll find out soon with the review of Morning Star.