That’s not to say this is a bad book: it’s not. Dyed-in-the-wool sci-fi fans will adore this book, I think, but personally, it just didn’t push my buttons like the first book did.
The thing I loved so much about Red Rising was the worldbuilding. Seriously, it was worth reading for that alone. I have no idea how long Pierce Brown spent constructing the world he set Red Rising in, but it felt like decades. It was intricate, original and interesting and it lifted what was an okay plot right up to Wowsville. The trouble was, the worldbuilding in Red Rising was so complete that the author had very few places left to go with it in the second book. The world was still great, but by and large the descriptions of it were just more of the same.
Golden Son picks up a few years after Red Rising left off. Darrow is now in the Academy, and taking a lot of practical lessons in Warmongering 101. The opening chapter reminded me a lot of the opening chapter in The Reality Dysfunction (if you haven’t read the Night’s Dawn Trilogy, then believe me, this is a massive, massive compliment) (and you need to go out right now and get The Reality Dysfunction from the library). But despite the cracking start, the rest of the plot didn’t hold my attention as well as the previous book. It wasn’t bad, but it just didn’t thrill me.
The plot in Red Rising was the kind of YA fodder I’ve seen before - a bit Hunger Games, a bit Maze Runner. Absolutely not derivative, but it definitely had similar themes. The plot in Golden Son, however, was a lot more adult. It’s all about court intrigue and war and those themes don’t tend to do a lot for me. Obviously the addition of spaceships made it a lot more interesting, but although there were some plot points that I loved it didn’t have me turning the pages terribly quickly.
The characterisation was pretty good in this book. I know we’re supposed to hate the Golds, but Pierce Brown just makes them sound so much fun! Obviously this adds to Darrow’s internal conflict - his whole raison d’etre is to destroy Gold society - but I still enjoyed the characters immensely.
So yeah, while I didn’t warm to this book as much as I did the first book I’d still recommend it to other Red Rising fans. And I’ll probably check out the final instalment, too. God knows how he’s going to wrap it all up!
(but probably 4.5 stars for true sci-fi fans)