Book Reviews

Review: Golden Son by Pierce Brown

https://i1.wp.com/ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/81bLndHzryL._SL1500_.jpg

“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: 5/5

Book Reviews

Review: Sway by Kat Spears

https://i2.wp.com/d.gr-assets.com/books/1402631419l/19286535.jpg

Sway (verb)

to control or influence (a person or course of action).

    “He has a lot of sway over other people.”

     synonyms: influence, affect, persuade, win over, convert

——–

Now, even though this is a young adult (YA) book, I will admit it is probably not one that I would have picked up and read if it wasn’t for our lovely Pan Macmillan rep at work. She gave me a copy of this book without telling me what it was about, other than she thought it was the most underrated YA novel of 2014, and that it’s “like a John Green novel, but better.”

I think what she meant was, that it is like a John Green novel in that a slightly off-beat protagonist goes about their life with a ‘well, what can you do ‘ type attitude, only to have their world turned upside down by a member of the opposite sex, with whom they end up falling in love. And it’s true – Sway is definitely like a John Green novel in that way.

But in every other way it is completely different.

And definitely better.

Jesse Alderman, or ‘Sway’ as he’s known, is a high school student who has a talent of being able to obtain the unobtainable. He is able to get people the things they want, at the right price, naturally – completed essays, fake IDs, alcohol and a date with any girl in school. He does this through a network of contacts, favours and the ability to be able to talk his way into or out of any situation. He could probably sell ice to eskimos. School doesn’t interest Jesse – it is merely the location where he conducts most of his business transactions. He moves through life with an almost clinical coldness in order to avoid getting close to anyone except his best female friend and business associate, Joey.

However, everything threatens to unravel when Kevin, the captain of the school football team (who, to put it lightly, is a bit of a jerk) hires Jesse to get the school’s gorgeous do-gooder, Bridget, to become interested in him. Jesse strikes up an unlikely friendship with Bridget’s kid brother, who has cerebral palsy, and suddenly Jesse finds himself developing a bond him. Then to Jesse’s further surprise, while completing his assignment for Kevin, he begins to learn a lot about Bridget and her life, and finds himself falling in love with her. Maybe, Jesse has kept other people out of his life for long enough.

This is a contemporary and realistically gritty YA novel is written from Jesse’s point of view. As such, it is cynical, straight to the point, and full of truth and sarcastic humour. His views and observations of the world are clinical, harsh and sometimes quite depressing, but always realistic and logical. But as soon as Bridget comes into the picture, he is forced to confront a lot of his own demons and finally see that maybe it is worth feeling something after all.

Our Pan Macmillan rep challenged me not to like this book, and being the person that I am I cried, “Challenge accepted!”

And try I did.

From the first page to the last, I tried to not like this book.

And I failed.

This book has the kind of writing that I felt was missing from John Green’s novels – it’s realistic, smart, funny and brutal in it’s honesty and it’s themes. The character of Jesse is excellently written, and immediately you feel like you have gotten inside his head, seeing things the way he sees them. This is the kind of YA novel we have been waiting for without realising it. Ultimately it is the writing that makes this novel such a compelling read. It is definitely my pick for most underrated book of 2014.

Even though this book is a YA novel, I would definitely only recommend it for ages 16+ due to the nature of some of the themes and references in the novel.

Rating: 4/5

Book Reviews

Review: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

https://i0.wp.com/www.yainterrobang.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/the-darkest-part-of-the-forest-holly-black-uk.jpg

Holly Black is most well-known for her Modern Faerie Tale series, and her co-authorship of The Spiderwick Chronicles (with Tony DiTerlizzi). So, before I opened her latest young adult (YA) offering, The Darkest Part of the Forest, I knew I would be in for a fantasy/paranormal type novel.

Hazel and her brother Ben live in an odd little town called Fairfold, where the local residents live in a peaceful co-existence with the faeries of the forest. Hazel dreams of becoming a knight and vanquishing evil forces, while Ben dreams of harnessing his otherworldly musical abilities. The town attracts many tourists who want to experience the magic, and occasionally one or two tourists will fall prey to a faerie’s tricks. The locals know how dangerous and unpredictable the fae can be, but they know how to guard against them.

The main tourist draw card in the town is a glass casket that lies in the darkest part of the forest. Inside the casket lies a sleeping faerie boy who has been there for as long as anyone can remember. Hazel and Ben grow up imagining what it would be like, and what kid of adventures they would have if he were to awaken.

However, none of the townsfolk, not even Hazel and Ben, are prepared for what happens to Fairfold when he finally does.

The thing I loved the most about this novel was how it completely flips stereotypes around. Ben is the more emotionally driven character, and the one who pines and obsesses over an unattainable love interest, whereas Hazel is the strong, heroic lead character who wants to save the day. I loved the character of Hazel, another strong lead female in the YA genre. Of course it wouldn’t be a YA novel if there wasn’t a bit of romance thrown in as well – Hazel and he brother’s best friend Jack, and Ben and the sleeping faerie prince.

This novel toes the line between Children’s and YA genres, which is really the only issue I have with the book. When I first picked it up, I thought I was going to be getting a great offering in the Children’s genre. The more I read, the more I realised it was definitely a YA novel! However, that being said there were times in the novel where I had to roll my eyes a little at how young and childish some parts were. It’s almost like Black couldn’t decide which audience she wanted to write the book for.

I would recommend this novel for the older readers (14+) who enjoyed Black’s other novels when they were younger.

Rating: 3/5

Book Reviews

Review: Red Rising by Pierce Brown

https://i0.wp.com/d.gr-assets.com/books/1369153188l/15839976.jpg

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: 4/5

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.