I'm going to avoid spoilers as much as I can, and really, this review won't make sense to you unless you read Red Rising first. Both books are excellent though so please do read them. Now, that being said, Pierce Brown keeps true to his love of the Roman structure so lauded in old mythologies, a society built on conquest and enslaving those beneath them, propping up their conquerors on the backs of the oppressed. We get to see a bit more of that in Golden Son, but not a lot and frankly, not enough. There are tons of colors in Brown's caste system and all with very, very specific roles and a place to fill in the hierarchy. Brown likes a few of these colors a lot more than others, and it shows. You really only get to know Pinks (sex slaves), Reds (because duh, Darrow was one, a lowly laborer who never sees the sun), and we are introduced a bit to, Obsidian, (warriors, which seem redundant next to grays - police officers, and Golds who are supposed to be the ultimate fighter) Orange, (mechanics) and Blues (telecommunication and navigation) but it's not enough for me to really be able to say for a certainty what they do. Not really knowing a lot about the others in the society and how they feel about their subjugation makes the rebellion feel pretty isolated. Yes, Brown does paint a nasty picture of what Golds are capable of but that does not mean every color feels like Darrow and the Reds or Pinks do. When the rebellion really starts, it can't be just Gold vs. everyone else. That may come in the next book though, I hope it does.
I have very few issues with this book overall, but my biggest complaint was that this story felt very similar to what Darrow already accomplished in the Academy. Finding allies to topple those at the top of the food chain. Bringing together those who are a bit of an outcast to Golds and using them to further the rebellion. This was most evidenced when Darrow shares his secret with his new personal body guard (Obsidian) whom he rescues and then gives Gold only weapons to in order to save his friends. Ragnar was trained to believe Norse mythology, where Golds are their Thor and Odin. Having Ragnar see Darrow not as a god but a human working to end the brutal enslavement of his color is touching, but Ragnar himself doesn't have much of a personality outside quoting Norse mythology. But I've gotten off topic.
Golden Son is a rehash of Red Rising. Except this time the game isn't in the Academy, it's for reals. I am sure that parallel is deliberate, but for as someone as talented as Brown is, I was hoping for something different. Either a different perspective or a different goal rather than stir the Golds into a civil war by killing a bunch of people and obliterating their family lines. Those practices were common in Greece back in the day too, but we already accomplished that in the first book, so I had hoped we had moved on from that.
Darrow is isolated from The Sons of Ares for the majority of the book until he finally does meet Ares himself and that was a clever little twist. I won't say more but I enjoyed who Ares turned out to be even if the reason Ares became Ares for seemed a little too coincidental. Brown does do that sometimes, doesn't tell the reader what Darrow is doing and then a skill he learned in secret saves his life. It's too convenient. Much like Ares' actual son. I forgive it though as the story is only from Darrow's perspective, if Darrow doesn't know something, then the reader doesn't either. Which brings me to my other point: sometimes the 1st person perspective of Darrow is hard to get into, where you aren't sure if things are in the past or present. It doesn't happen that often but when it does, it throws me through a loop.
Unfortunately, Golden Son ends on a big cliffhanger. Red Rising was a great compact story with an ending where you knew that something big has to happen in the next book, you knew the story continued but felt good about where the first ended. Darrow accomplished the thing he needed to, he's in. But in a classic heroes journey, this is meant to be Darrow's lowest point. Which is where the book ends. Darrow losing everything he gained and being captured (with some gut punching twists that I won't spoil). Still, it left me feeling like Darrow had just wasted my time a little by being betrayed at the finish line. I believe if the ending had still ended with a gut punch, things going wrong and more hurdles to climb to complete the rebellion and liberate the society, I would have felt better about it. But now there is too much for Darrow and his friends to undo and fix all over again, earning this book a 4 out of 5 stars.
I never read series back to back, I like a little break in between for reasons that only make sense to me. So it'll be a little bit before I finish this trilogy, but I am looking forward to it!