Book Reviews

Review: Golden Son by Pierce Brown

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“I’m still playing games. This is just the deadliest yet.”

The tag line for Golden Son bodes extremely well for those who, like myself, got completely hooked on Red Rising (you can read my review here). I thought the toughest, deadliest, trickiest and most harrowing part of Darrow’s mission was over.

Apparently not.

Golden Son opens two years after the events that took place at the end of Red Rising. Darrow is now at the Academy where he is learning the art of war. He has fully ingratiated himself into Augustus’ retinue and into Gold society. He has made friends and enemies, as any good Gold does, and is well on his way to bringing down everything from the inside. Darrow soon finds himself heading up a full-scale rebellion against the Sovereign and the Society. It’s Gold against Gold, with constantly shifting allegiances. Darrow thinks he knows who he can trust, but they are all Golds – can he truly trust any of them? And with so many people from of colours becoming collateral damage along the way, is Darrow really willing to do what it takes to bring about change?

As Golden Son unfolds, we realise more and more that the Institute was child’s play – it was nothing compared to the Golds, war and alliances of the real world. Darrow not only has to be a good fighter, he also has to out-think, out-manoeuvre and out-politicise his enemies. And this makes for an excellent novel. It is a suspenseful, enthralling story that you enjoy reading, but also makes you think about what is happening. Personally, I kept thinking about how many of the seemingly isolated interactions and incidents may fit into the bigger picture, because, in the end, they all do, and it’s a lot of fun trying to figure out how.

Red Rising was as much about Darrow learning how to navigate the Institute and the world as a Gold as it was about him completing his mission and getting justice. Similarly, Golden Son is as much about bringing down the Sovereign – Octavia au Lune – and the Society, as it is about Darrow questioning his own motives, his morality and whether or not he is the person Eo would have wanted him to become. Yes, this novel has a lot of action, death and destruction, but it also is about the internal struggle Darrow is experiencing.

As in Red Rising, the characters in this novel continue to be extremely well crafted and well defined. Those characters we encountered in the last book, and that reappear in Golden Son have a wonderful new depth to them, especially Darrow as he questions himself in a way that the other characters do not seem to.

And what an ending!

I have read a lot of books in my lifetime (so far…) and this is the most dramatic ending I have come across – the cliff-hanger to end all cliff-hangers! I’m pretty sure I held my breath for the last 6 pages of the book, and that my heart stopped beating for the final 2 paragraphs. How am I supposed to be expected to wait until 2016 to find out what happens?!

Definitely recommended for those who loved Red Rising. For those who haven’t read either of Pierce Brown’s wonderful works, I would definitely recommend reading Red Rising first otherwise you will find yourself a bit lost with what is going on in Golden Son.

Rating: 10/10

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Book Reviews

Review: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

 

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I know that there are a lot of young adult (YA) books around at the moment that delve into the themes of a hierarchical and unfair society, and rising up against oppression.

So, when one of our publishing reps at work gave me an uncorrected proof for Red Queen, I was sceptical. I fully expected it to be going to be just another YA book that conformed to the current dystopian fad – nothing special, and basically a carbon copy of something already out there.

But Victoria Aveyard’s debut novel (the first in a planned trilogy) has certainly raised the bar for dystopian genre YA novels.

Mare Barrow lives in a world where everyone is divided by the colour of his or her blood – you are either Silver or Red. The life of a Red is not one that is coveted, and it is one that is lived shortly, and in misery. Silvers, on the other hand, live in wealth and luxury, and have different abilities that give them power and position over the Reds – the ability to read minds, the ability to control a particular element, or even the ability to control nature. For the Silvers it is all about power and control.

Mare is a 17-year-old Red and spends her days thieving and pick pocketing to help her family to survive. Reds must have an apprenticeship by 18 years of age, otherwise they are conscripted to the kingdom’s long running war with the neighbouring Lakelanders. This weighs heavily on Mare’s mind, as she is almost 18-years-old with no apprenticeship or job prospects. The war has already taken her three brothers away from her family, and she hates the Silvers for it.

A twist of fate intervenes, and Mare finds herself working at the summer palace for the Silver royal family of her region, and she soon discovers that she possesses a mysterious power of her own. In an attempt to cover up this genetic anomaly, the king forces Mare to pretend to be a lost Silver noble, and betroths her to one of his own sons. As Mare is drawn further into the Silver world, she must decide whether to follow her head or her heart, knowing that one wrong move will lead to her death.

I got totally absorbed in this book. When I wasn’t reading it, I was thinking about what had just happened, and what I thought was going to happen next. It hooked me right in! I will admit that there are elements of the book that reek with familiarity, but the more you read, the more you start thinking that it is actually quite different.

I am a sucker for a strong, downtrodden female protagonist, so I loved the character of Mare – strong, independent, but still flawed and unsure of herself. I also love that there is an element of romance in the book, but it takes a back seat to the overall storyline, which is refreshing in this genre. And the ending! Not at all what I was expecting, which is fantastic! The book has moments of suspense throughout, but the ending takes the cake – not at all what you think is going to happen.

I really did love this book, and considering Universal Pictures acquired the film rights before Aveyard even finished writing it, I’m obviously not the only one who thinks it great! A great read for teens aged 14+, and for adults who enjoy a good dystopian novel.

Rating: 9/10

Book Reviews

Review: Red Rising by Pierce Brown

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Dystopian/post-apocalyptic/rise-against-oppression novels are back in vogue again folks (as if you didn’t know!).

And across all genres as well! – young adult, general fiction, and fantasy, as well as the traditional science fiction.

Once upon a time, a dystopian novel where the hero wants to challenge the status quo would only have been picked up by the true, die-hard Sci-Fi fanatics. Nowadays, we have thankfully broken out of that stereotype, and with so many quality and engaging books that deal with these themes, it’s easy to see why we have!

And Red Rising certainly falls into the category of a quality and engaging book.

Red Rising, the first book in Pierce Brown’s debut trilogy, introduces us to Darrow.

Darrow is a Red and a Helldiver; one of many who are part of the lower echelons of a hierarchical/caste system that is designated by colours. He lives his life below the surface of Mars, mining elements that they are told will make the surface of Mars habitable for future generations because Earth is dying – they are the only hope humanity has for it’s survival.

However, an awful and traumatic series of events leads Darrow to find out that everything they were told was a lie to subdue and control. Mars has long been inhabited by the Golds – the top tier of society. With the help of an underground group of rebels that are determined to bring down the system from the inside, Darrow goes undercover as a Gold and enlists in one of their prestigious command schools. But Darrow soon finds himself right in the middle of an elaborate battlefield, fighting it out with all the other students for the top spot – only for Darrow, this is about more than just a prestigious offer of apprenticeship at the end of the game. This is about justice. This is about revenge.

This book is The Hunger Games for adults. It is so skilfully written, with so many intricate details and clever nuances. The writing is some of the best I have read in this genre, which is no mean feat normally, but then take into account that Pierce Brown is only 26! The amount of detail at times made me forget that this imagined society doesn’t actually exist. Brown cleverly uses self-made language and jargon to distinguish between the upper and lower colour classes. This jargon makes this fictional society more authentic, but it also serves to show that this version of humanity and society is something that is very different to what we know – but one that is not necessarily that implausible.

All the characters in this book are extremely well crafted and clearly defined. They really are the driving force of the entire novel. Despite their brutal natures and shocking acts, I actually really loved the characterisation of many of them, however I won’t reveal which ones were my favourites for fear of spoiling the book for everyone! My only criticism is that, at times, the story did drag on a bit, especially since the first part of the book moved quite quickly. However, Brown does pick up the pace again towards the final stages of the novel, and it is well worth the wait.

This book is definitely one I would recommend for lovers of the Sci-Fi genre, as well as those who may not have thought or wanted to delve into it before. This book is not what you would expect from a book in this category, and I can see it becoming a movie at some point in the future! And if the quality of the storyline, the writing, and the characters weren’t enough to get you to give this book a go, the author isn’t all that terrible looking either! Check out this rather humorous take on Pierce Brown here.

Golden Son, the second book in the trilogy, is due out in Australia on 13th January 2015, so make sure Red Rising is on your wishlist this Christmas!

Rating: 9/10

Edit: Looks like my prediction was right! Despite the book only being released at the start of 2014, Brown has already written and sold the screenplay for Red Rising to Universal pictures for a tidy sum. Find out more here.

Book Reviews

Review: The Jewel by Amy Ewing

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I am a huge fan of young adult novels.

I also hate the term ‘young adult’ when categorizing – you don’t have to be aged 12 to 21-ish to enjoy reading books in this category.

Quite often in my bookstore, I see adults buying copies of The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner and Divergent for themselves to read, and it really is fantastic to see that they aren’t fazed by categorization. There are some other fantastic stories out there that are deemed ‘young adult’ but which I think adults would really enjoy too. These books also often deal with rather adult themes, and The Jewel is no exception.

This first book in a new dystopian series sees Violet auctioned off as a surrogate to an elite royal family in The Jewel. As with all dystopian heroines, Violet is not one to readily settle for her fate. She meets Ash, a handsome young royal companion, and they begin an illicit love affair, all while being used as puppets in a deadly game of court politics. In a world where these young surrogates are treated as objects, or even ‘pets’, Violet unwittingly becomes the only person able to change the current status quo.

With a cliff-hanger to rival that of any television drama, this books slowly hooks you in and, at times, I forgot that it was a ‘young adult’ novel that I was reading. It did take a few chapters for me to really get into the novel, as it starts with Violet at a training centre where the potential surrogates spend a number of years honing their special skills. It took a while to get to the crux of the story, but once it does, the themes the book deals with are quite adult in nature. There were moments where I did actually feel a bit uncomfortable about what I was reading. I think the best way to describe this book is terrifyingly beautiful. It is beautiful in the gilded and glittering in the clothes, parties and palaces that Violet frequents, but also shockingly brutal when it delves into the (at times) confronting details of Violet’s role as a surrogate.

Overall, I thought this book was quite unique, and therefore an engaging read, despite the sometimes uneasy and graphic scenes. It shares many similarities and tropes of other dystopian novels, but in terms of subject matter, it is quite unlike any other dystopian novel I have read. I would definitely recommend this book for readers aged 16+.

Rating 6/10