Golden Son by Pierce Brown

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I have this theory I call “middle book syndrome,” which basically states that the middle novel of a trilogy is inherently in danger of becoming nothing more than a set-up for the third book – that it will lack a proper plot of its own and become a dragging plod from start to finish. It’s the mark of a good author to avoid this, but I’m always leery when I pick up the second book of a series.

In this case, though – damn, sir. You knocked it out of the park, and my hat’s off to you.

Golden Son starts some time after the events of Red Rising. Our hero Darrow is leading war strategy, but he loses his final match to the brother of Cassius – something his patron, the ArchGovernor of Mars, cannot abide. To save his hide from the Bellonas, Darrow makes an uneasy alliance with his former enemy the Jackal and declares war upon the Sovereign in the name of the ArchGovernor. The story follows that war, from Darrow & Co’s harrowing escape from Luna through war councils and raids and culminating in an Iron Rain on Mars itself. Darrow rises so high, only to have his knees swept out from him at the end.

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A scene this book made me think of often

First off, let me address what I saw as the main problem of Red Rising – the female characters. Thankfully, Brown does a much better job handling those characters here than he did in Red Rising. Mustang mercifully does not get damseled again – in fact, she actually has some agency of her own in trying to protect her family. Victra gets introduced in this book, and she is a whirlwind – in love with Darrow, but not pining over him, she is loyal, smart and vicious when she needs to be. There is still a blatant female death, but it serves more purpose than just to spur Darrow on – it is one of the first events to drive a wedge between Darrow and one of his friends, a theme that builds throughout the novel. Overall, I’m much happier on this front and can happily give this book the rating I’m going to.

While we’re on character, let’s chat about the other characters. Darrow grows a bit more here. Just like Red Rising, the steady thrum of Darrow’s motivation pulses throughout the novel. In fact, it’s even heavier here due to a heartbreaking revelation Darrow receives early on. This is an older Darrow, who has learned much from his experiences, but who hasn’t yet figured out how to open up to his friends. He makes a lot of progress on this over the course of the novel, and yet his mistakes in this area are his undoing.

Two of my favorites from Red Rising are still here as well in strong supporting roles – Sevro and Roque. Sevro in particular is a wonder in this book, getting far more stage time and far more depth than he did previously. His Howlers continue to be the difference between life and death for Darrow, and we get another revelation concerning Sevro toward the end of the novel, one that explains a lot about him. Roque, meanwhile, earns his stripes as a space commander, seemingly at odds with his poetic attitude toward life.

There are also several new characters – we see the ArchGovernor in detail, learning more about his motives and humanizing him without un-villainizing him. Victra, I’ve already mentioned. Darrow acquires an Obsidian retainer, whose journey from slavish adoration of Darrow to willing partner and friend makes a nice subplot, and we also meet the much-mentioned Lorn au Arcos, former Rage Knight, who serves as a wise mentor figure for Darrow. All of these are welcome additions to the novel, adding more depth and color (hah – get it?) to the story.

Now that the serious stuff is past us, let’s talk about the fun stuff – holy action sequences, Batman! This novel contains some of the most exciting action set-pieces I’ve read, particularly Darrow and Sevro’s desperate, last-ditch and SUCCESSFUL attempt to jettison themselves aboard a spaceship and take control. The Iron Rain on Mars would be a close second. Brown describes all of this very well; it’s easy to picture it, even feel it, as you’re reading. Movie adaptations can go horribly, horribly wrong, but I’d love to see those scenes on the big screen someday.

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Me, reading this book (hair and all)

So you won’t be surprised when I tell you that this book moves, even more than Red Rising did. Brown has a knack for removing the boring bits, pushing logistics off-screen to the Jackal and jumping ahead a few weeks here and there to avoid the plot stagnating. It feels effortless, and you barely notice it, but it keeps the plot hammering forward.

Saying all that to say this – Golden Son was better thanRed Rising, and I highly recommend it and I look forward to the series’ conclusion. Morning Star arrived in the mail this morning, so I can’t wait to see where that cliffhanger ending goes!

Grade: 5/5

Memorable Quote

““You were not strong enough then,” Harmony says. “Are you strong enough now, Helldiver?” I look at her, tears blurring my sight. Her hard eyes soften for me. “I had children, once. Radiation ate their insides, and they didn’t even give them pain meds. Didn’t even fix the leak. Said there weren’t enough resources. My husband just sat there and watched them die. In the end, the same thing took him. He was a good man. But good men die. 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.”
I stand and wrap my arms around her as I’m reminded of the true horrors our kind face. Had I really forgotten? I am a child of hell, and I’ve spent too long in their heaven.”

— Golden Son, pg. 81

-Regina

Originally appeared on Regina’s blog

The Everything Box by Richard Kadrey

the-everything-boxI’ve never read any of Richard Kadrey’s other work, but when I saw The Everything Box being compared to Christopher Moore’s novels (which I love), I knew I would have to pick it up.

Boy, I’m glad I did.

This novel starts off ridiculous, with the angel in charge of office supplies misplacing the box he was supposed to use to end the world, and just keeps getting more and more insane and over the top. Thief Coop, who is immune to magic, is hired to steal the box and puts together a team. Soon, everyone is after it, including two cults, an undead zombie “mook,” the original angel who lost it and a bunch more players we needn’t get into here. Coop gets involuntarily recruited by the Department of Peculiar Science (DOPS) and sets out to recover the box and see that it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.

This book is laugh-out-loud funny in places, and it takes a lot to make me say that. Kadrey has a knack for witty banter and fast-paced quips that make you chuckle, which he couples with a dry wit when it comes to explaining the supernatural world he’s created. It’s a tone that really works well for the novel (and yes, does remind me greatly of Christopher Moore). The two cults alone had me giggling every time I reached one of their chapters, let alone the rest of the story. It’s offbeat, off-kilter and wacky, and yet it works remarkably well for the world Kadrey has created.

The plot seems simple at the beginning, though as the novel progresses it gets more and more convoluted. I’m not 100% sure that Kadrey really pulls it off (some of the late-comers to the search for the box aren’t very well explained, nor do they add much to the story), but he writes with such flair that it’s hard to mark him down for it. The book also whisks by at a steady clip, plot moving faster and faster, that you’re not likely to put it down.

The characters are a bit of a mixed bag. Coop gets better as the novel progresses and he’s forced into reluctant action, and the various cult members (with such exceedingly culty names as “Steve” and “Jerry”) are actually remarkably sympathetic from the get-go, for all that they want to end the world. Bayliss is equally likeable (perhaps the most likeable for me personally), but that’s pretty much where it stops. Giselle comes off as petty and somewhat rude in her belittling of Coop, and many if not most of the other DOPS characters (especially Nelson) are fundamentally unlikeable. Maybe that’s the point though, since we’re seeing this from Coop’s eyes – after all, he doesn’t really want to be a part of any of this, and DOPS behaves rather jerkishly throughout the novel.

That being said, this book is a fun romp, a combo caper and supernatural novel that shifts effortlessly between those elements. Best of all, it’ll make you laugh, and who couldn’t use some laughter these days? Go read it and find out who ends up with the box and if the world gets destroyed!

Grade: 4/5

Memorable Quotes

“The Dark High Magister of the Cladis Abaddonis Lodge was one of a long line of priests that stretched back many centuries. The Lodge had been in continuous existence almost since people could scribble on paper. Naturally, as soon as they could scribble shapes, some people didn’t want to let other people see them. Only a special few of their choosing. The right kind of people. And they kicked the ass of anyone who peeked. That’s basically how secret societies were born. The Cladis Abaddonis Lodge had been one of the first and most secretive of these.”

— The Everything Box, pg. 138

“The gunman sounded annoyed. “You suck the fun out of everything.”
”He thinks we’re here to kill him. That’s not a good way to begin a business relationship,” said the woman.
”That’s what I’m talking about right there. Work, work, work. I bet when you saw Star Wars all you thought about was Darth Vader’s quarterly review. He lost the princess. He choked an officer.”
”Well, he did let the Death Star get blown up,” said the woman.
”See? I knew it.””

— The Everything Box, pg. 142

-Regina

Originally appeared on Regina’s blog