Warning: There are some mild spoilers in this, so proceed at your own risk!
Over the past few years, I’ve developed a bad habit as a reader – I skim ahead. I don’t do it all the time, but I do it often enough that I consciously avoided the impulse to skip forward while reading Pierce Brown’s Red Rising. I was really enjoying the book and didn’t want anything to be spoiled!
The sequel, Golden Son, was a different story. While reading that, when I finished a chapter, I thumbed through the next few pages A LOT. Part of that was because the story didn’t quite hook me as much in the beginning as Red Rising did. Though Brown credits his editor for the “story’s ravaging pace,” it never felt like that to me. In fact, much of the book was a slog – more something that I felt I had to read, as opposed to something I wanted to read.
In a way, it reminded me of my issues with George R. R. Martin’s “Song of Fire and Ice” series. Just like Martin’s characters, for every one step forward that Darrow made, shortly after he would be forced to take two steps back. It was frustrating, so I would flip past the next 10, 20, or 50 pages, just to see if anything started to balance out. As I’ve told my friends about Martin’s work, I don’t mind the setbacks as long as it doesn’t feel like that’s all we’re seeing – our favorite characters brought down over and over again.
I also found myself tiring of all the politicking and treachery among the different Golds. As Darrow notes at the end, many – especially the Jackal – possess a cruelty that he simply can’t match (and often doesn’t anticipate) and that is a distinction that is important to illustrate. But though it takes Darrow nearly the whole book to learn that lesson, I could have done with a little less backstabbing.
That said, pretty much all of my ambivalence about the book changed when I finished Chapter 42, “Death of a Gold.” The reveal of Ares’s identity was a twist I definitely wasn’t expecting and the surprise breathed new life into the story for me. I suddenly found myself desperate for more time to read and, shamefully, skipped ahead to the end when I wasn’t able to get through it as quickly as I wanted.
The ending – without giving away too many spoilers – had a very “Red Wedding” feeling to it (echoes again of Martin!), but instead of wanting to throw Golden Son across the room, I immediately dove into Morning Star, the final book in the trilogy. Though I’m only a few pages in, I have been sucked into Darrow’s story once again and am back to resisting the urge to read past my bookmark. Of course I have a sense of how the tale ends – one can assume that the dystopia’s government will fall – but I want to be surprised about how exactly it happens.