I still consider Golden Son to be the best book in the Red Rising series. Strangely, I almost feel bad saying that, as it sounds like I’m saying the series peaked with Book 2. It didn’t and that’s not what I’m saying. For me, Golden Son is to Red Rising what Prisoner of Azkaban is to the Harry Potter series. It’s the book that demonstrated the true depth of the story being told. Highly entertaining, suspenseful, thrilling and occasionally heartbreaking, Golden Son is everything I love about the Red Rising series in one book. It raises the stakes, building on the original book and setting up the trilogy’s conclusion perfectly.
As a story, Golden Son is so much more than the sum of its parts. But it really does have so many great parts, which is what I wanted to index here.
What follows contains MAJOR SPOILERS from Red Rising Book 2 (Golden Son). Obviously. But it still needs to be stated. If you haven’t read or finished Golden Son, stop reading this now.
Below are my reactions to the standout moments from Golden Son, ranked in no particular order.
Darrow Faces Off Against Cassius
Throughout the first part of the book, we’re led to believe that Darrow doesn’t really know what he’s doing with a razor. At least, that’s the reputation he’s earned as almost no one knows he spent months training with Lorn au Arcos. And then Darrow faces off against Cassius and proves to be a worthy sparring opponent to his newly-knighted frenemy. Not only does this scene deliver the traditional arm-lopping moment of the book, but it also redeems Darrow, who spent chapters before that being defeated by the Bellonas. Heck, seeing Cassius with Mustang on his arm was enough to make me want to see this fight happen.
Darrow and Sevro Invade The Vanguard’s Bridge
It’s a moment foreshadowed earlier in the book when Darrow considers launching himself into Karnus’ bridge at the Academy. He couldn’t make the move then, but it was never about having enough nerve. He proved as much when it came time to change the paradigm as he and the Howlers are trying to escape the Sovereign’s clutches. Darrow and Sevro catapulting themselves into an enemy ship is really only Part 1 of this moment. Part 2 is Darrow deciding not to vent the ship and instead, convincing all of the lowColors on board to turn on the Golds and help him seize control.
This whole sequence is incredibly exciting and leads to the introductions of Orion and Ragnar, two of the best characters in the series.
The Sovereign Interrogates Darrow
This is one of my favorite character moments in the original trilogy, as it really allows us to get the measure of who the Sovereign is. For all of her presence in the plot, she’s not actually around all that much in the books, so a scene like this really does need to count.
Octavia au Lune needs to have the upper hand and she’s not averse to cheating to get it. In this scene, she uses the slithering, fanged Oracles to interrogate Darrow, and in the process, the two characters have the opportunity to get a read on one another. Watching her square off with Darrow in a virtual staring contest is pretty fantastic. Disturbing and tense, but fantastic.
Darrow Stands Up For Victra
Victra could be an item on this list all by herself. In addition to giving us Ragnar and Orion, Golden Son delivers Victra to us in all of her stunning Julii glory as a character we didn’t know we needed until we had her. Given her mother’s flip-flopping allegiance, not to mention her half-sister Antonia’s known viciousness, it’s no wonder pretty much everyone’s Darrow trusts takes a moment to stop and question whether she should be allowed to hang around as shit is really starting to escalate.
Roque is really the only one to take Victra’s side before Darrow steps up and says he trusts her and that she’s part of the group. Regardless of her family, she’s his friend and that’s that. I can’t help but feel like this was a solidifying moment in Darrow and Victra’s friendship. A fork in the road for the two of them where the alternative would’ve seen Victra eventually part ways with Darrow if it became inconvenient to stand by him. He had her loyalty before then, but had he caved to the Mustang, Kavax and Lorn’s doubts, what would have become of that friendship? That brings me to my next point.
The Erosion of Darrow & Roque’s Friendship
The first time I read Golden Son, I didn’t predict that Roque would betray Darrow, but in rereads, it seems like all of the pieces were laid out pretty clearly. Between Darrow drugging Roque to keep him out of the gala, to Quinn’s death, to Aja’s escape, to Tactus’ death to Darrow not looping Roque in on his end-game strategy for the Mars battle, it was all building up. Heck, Sevro flat-out said early on in the book that Roque wouldn’t be cool with Darrow being a Red. And yet, it still feels like a punch to the gut when it happens.
What I keep wondering about is, did Roque eventually betray Darrow because he kept him at a distance? Or did Darrow keep Roque at a distance because deep down he knew Roque wouldn’t stand by him if he knew the truth? I’m kind of leaning toward the latter. Or maybe it’s both. Obviously I don’t think Darrow saw Roque’s betrayal coming. He loved Roque and believed Roque loved him back. But I also think that maybe on some level he knew Roque was team “For Gold” above all else. And that their friendship probably had an expiration date.
Sevro Knows. Sevro’s a Son. Sevro’s a Red.
Golden Son truly is Sevro Rising. In Red Rising, we got more than a glimpse of what the so-called Goblin was capable of. In Golden Son, he steps out of the shadows and finds his rightful place at Darrow’s side. He takes his time to make an entrance in the book, only to show up with a bang like the ugliest angel ever shit out of heaven. From there, it’s a series of great moments and reveals. Not only does Sevro now know who Darrow really is, but he’s all in on Team Ares. We later learn that Sevro’s actually part Red, which only makes him feel like more of a true brother to Darrow than he was before.
As huge as these moments are, I’m more in love with the little scenes Sevro gets, like when he orders everyone to “Thank the Reaper” as he’s releasing them, or how he’s pretty much always rude to Victra in the few interactions they have with one another in the book (the value of that bit of amusement comes later, but still). And of course, who can forget Sevro coining the song:
“If your heart beats like a drum, and your leg’s a little wet, it’s ’cause the Reaper’s come to collect a little debt.”
Eo was Pregnant
We knew there was more to Eo’s situation than was revealed in Red Rising. This small piece of information was kept from Darrow after he was recruited by Ares. In Golden Son, it’s Harmony who delivers it to him, using the heartbreaking information to douse fuel on Darrow’s grief and rage over the loss of his wife in the hopes that he’ll nuke the Golds. It works… temporarily. In the long run, it only adds more depth to the loss Darrow has suffered. And more clarity to the weight of Eo’s choices.
Pax left a massive vacancy among the beloved characters in this story and only someone with the heart and sheer size of Ragnar could possibly fill it. Not only does Ragnar prove to be a loyal protector to Darrow, he’s also able to see through the Society’s lies and follow Darrow willingly, despite generations of brainwashing within his color. But what I love most about Ragnar is his perspective. He’s such a thoughtful character, rarely wasting words but always willing to share his views when he thinks they’re needed. Whether it’s to stand up for himself or for what’s right or to express a distaste for rhyming, when Ragnar has something to say, he says it. Darrow may have had to talk him into accepting freedom and a razor, but he didn’t need to do much to convince Ragnar of his own value as a man.
Ragnar was conditioned to believe that Golds are gods and that his place is at their feet. Maybe Darrow changed his mind. Or maybe, deep down, Ragnar always knew he wasn’t inferior to any Color, he just needed the opportunity to believe it.
Oh Tactus. There was so much potential in him. He was destined to be the worst kind of Gold, and yet some part of him always wanted to change. Maybe it was that flicker of faith Darrow had in him that made him believe he could be more than just another brutal Rath. He faltered time and again, especially when he grabbed Lysander and bolted from the ship, leaving Darrow and others without their one bargaining chip. But in the end, he just wanted to come home.
It was no surprise that Lorn would fatally punish Tactus for threatening his family. All the same, it was no less devastating to see him stabbed to death by old Stoneside. And all the more heartbreaking to learn that he’d actually bought back the violin Darrow gifted him so he could learn to play it. He had so much potential and in the end, had one of the saddest exits from the series.
The Iron Rain
Bloodydamn, yes! As if Golden Son couldn’t get any better, Darrow calls for an iron rain, invading Mars in spectacular, chaotic fashion. It’s a thrilling, terrifying scene that emphasizes the insane danger of humans being packed into sardine cans and launched to the surface. Not only is the act of descending like a bolt of lightening a dangerous task, but as we see in this scene, people are killed off left and right, pretty much at random. It’s basically chance that Darrow and most of the Howlers actually survive the invasion.
The sequence of events that follows Darrow’s arrival on Mars is just as exciting, especially when we factor in the EMP leaving Darrow, Ragnar, Sevro and others stuck in their starShells in the mud in the river. Darrow nearly having to sever his own arm to get out of it and then rescue Ragnar and the others. Ragnar using the razor and eventually killing an Olympic Knight (we don’t get to see it, but just know it happens is enough.) Darrow chasing down the Sovereign. Darrow killing Karnus. And then, of course…
Fitchner. Is. Ares.
This really is a reveal that packs its biggest punch the first time through. I’d also argue that it’s the biggest spoiler of the first two books, as it’s impossible to reread the Red Rising books and not think, “He’s Ares!” every time Fitchner is in the scene. Up until he’s rescuing Darrow from the Sovereign’s ship, it’s hard to tell exactly where Fitchner stands or what his motives are besides upward mobility. That he’s been the mastermind this whole time feels both surprising and completely fitting, all things considered. And it’s such a great time to reveal it, just when it seemed like Darrow was out of options.
Darrow and Mustang… Finally
Red Rising is not a romance series and it doesn’t try to be. But love is such a driving force in these books that it seems only right that romance should happen when the time is right. And the time was about as right as it could be when Darrow and Mustang finally knocked gravBoots. Despite their closeness in all other respects, Darrow keeps Mustang at a romantic distance up until the point where he can’t anymore.
It isn’t just that his heart belonged to Eo. By the time he and Mustang get together, Darrow seems more than ready to admit he loves her. Thoughts of Mustang were mixed in with thoughts of Eo when he thought he was about to die. But he also believes Mustang is in love with a lie. It would be unfair to pursue her knowing she doesn’t know who he truly is. We could argue that their one time together was a moment of weakness for Darrow. A much needed one, but still a moment of weakness where he disregards all moral obligations and lets her in. And then…
Darrow tells Mustang.
Because he has to. She needs to know, and Darrow believes if Mustang knows who he really is and accepts what he is, there’s hope for this movement. So he tells her.
Well, he doesn’t tell her, but he gives her the holo of his carving and lets her watch it. Alone. This has always been kind of maddening to me, as we never really get to see Mustang’s reaction to the whole thing. We see her sadness and anger not long after, when Darrow tracks her down and they have their confrontation. We get snippets of her emotions in this scene. Her shock and frustration. The realization that her father was responsible for his wife’s death. The understanding that that’s been the motive behind everything he’s been doing. We can only guess what she’s truly feeling though. And then she’s gone. Thankfully. Because if she’d stayed, who knows what would’ve happen to her.
And it’s understandable that Pierce Brown would withhold more of a reaction from us, as we’re meant to be left unsure of what Mustang is truly thinking. Darrow isn’t allowed to know what she’s going to do, so neither are we. The confrontation only confirms that she’s upset. The rest, we’ll have to wait for.
Man, does Golden Son close out with a bang. It seems almost too good to be true that the final chapter would be Darrow receiving the recognition he deserves for taking Mars. Instead, the Triumph turns into a total bloodbath. The Jackal kills his father. Lorn is brutally murdered without getting to defend himself or his family.
And then there’s the box. The time between when we know something horrible is in the box and when we find out who it is seems excruciatingly long. Sevro and Mustang are NOT around, which leaves us to fear it might be one of their heads in there stuffed with grapes. But no, it’s Fitchner’s head. Ares is dead. And it’s Roque who’s presented this little gift to Darrow, revealing that he now knows the truth and he’s chosen his side.
And then there’s Cassius, who arrives just in time to rub salt in the wound, believing Darrow had his whole family killed. Finally, we have Victra, shot in the spine by her own sister (who also killed their mother), using what might be her dying breaths to tell Darrow she swears she didn’t know.
It’s all. Too. Much.
And that’s how this bloodydamn book ends. With everything falling apart. Augustus is dead. Fitchner is dead. Lorn is dead. Roque is an enemy. We don’t know if Sevro’s ok. Victra is dying. And Darrow is now at the mercy of the Jackal.
Honestly, this book does absolutely everything perfectly, including kicking us in the face at the very end, because why not?
There are so many other great moments amidst all of this. Pliny’s downfall. That amazing meeting room scene where Mustang is eating the apple. Darrow visiting his mother (and her recognizing him pretty much right away). The whole opening sequence at the end of the Academy for Darrow. Orion’s perfect introduction (I freaking love her.)… There isn’t a chapter or paragraph or sentence that goes to waste in Golden Son. Everything counts and it all builds up to the kind of ending that leaves us desperate for Morning Star. Which also delivers. It’s the final frame in a perfect game. But that’s a conversation for another article.
This is a lot of words, I realize. And believe it or not, I have so many more thoughts on this book. If there are any topics I didn’t touch on, or ones I did that you want me to expand on, feel free to drop a comment below and maybe I’ll do a followup. In the meantime, on to Morning Star!