Men Are From Mars

There are things I like and things I dislike in the pop culture world, but it's becoming more and more difficult to surprise me. Not that I consider myself cynical or jaded or anything. It's just that there don't seem to be many new techniques to apply to entertainment these days. Things tend to follow patterns, and one of the more settled patterns is that the second part of a trilogy is generally the weakest of the three, and is never as good as the first. The Empire Strikes Back is the exception that proves the rule: Number Two lives up to that description.

Which is why it was nothing short of amazing to me that Pierce Brown's Golden Son, the 2015 follow-up to last year's Red Rising, managed to accomplish two things. Firstly, it was able to stand apart as an entity capable of existing on its own merits, rather than just serving as weak connective tissue between the first and third books. Secondly, and here's the real coup, it's not only a good read, but it's better than the first book. Really! The series is actually building on its foundation, which you'd hope would happen all the time, but never does. Catching Fire was fine, but was essentially a retread of The Hunger Games. The Magician King just wandered around marking time until the The Magician's Land stuck the landing.

Red Rising was fine, but as you'll recall, I found it a little too derivative of the futuristic, dystopian YA fiction that came before it. Golden Son does not have that problem. It belongs entirely to its own universe, and propels the story in a much more organic way.

When we last left Darrow, he was joining the most powerful Gold family in an effort to bring it down from within. Striking a balance between keeping Gold friends while actively plotting against the Gold-led society is a very delicate proposition, for both the character and for Pierce Brown, and both of them handle it with aplomb. It's become cliche to say that the stakes have never been higher, but it applies here. In Red Rising, Darrow may have been in a dangerous situation, but everything was confined to an arena of combatants. Now he's out in the world, and his actions have real consequences for innocent civilians. He has both triumphs and setbacks in his quest to restructure the world, with his allies and enemies constantly shifting. To say much more would be too spoilery, but we leave Golden Son on a cliff-hanger that makes me intensely curious to see where things go next.

The futuristic technobabble is a slight problem, but in general, the book does a good job of weaving advanced technology into a story of political intrigue and battle scenes. The writing style is very cinematic, and I wouldn't be surprised to see these books adapted into a movie series pretty soon. [In fact, after writing that sentence, I decided to check into it, and yup.] Darrow is a good protagonist, in that he's not always right, he's sometimes assured of himself and sometimes not, and he gives actual weight to his mistakes while still following his conscience. I blew through this book in no time, and am actively looking forward to the closing chapter.

Golden Son still follows some conventional rules, and while I really liked it, it lacks that special something that would push it into the A-range on the grading scale. That said, I cannot overemphasize how pleasantly surprised I was by a book that managed to elevate the series it belongs to, rather than dragging it down. Add this to the list of things this book accomplished: Making me give a Number Two book a solid recommend.

Golden Son: B+


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