Ashes of the Fallen (A Review)

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Review by Curtis Cole

 
Returning to the universe of The Dragon’s Wrath, I was unsure of what to expect. Although the first volume was enjoyable enough, it suffered from some less than bearable moments of sexual introspection and existential Angst, not to mention a lagging pace on par with the worst LAN sessions imaginable. But still, the premise of author Brent Roth’s first volume—A virtual Dream—that of a virtual reality massively multiplayer online game set a fantasy world roughly modeled off of a fascination with Viking history, was compelling. I was interested in how the story developed and to what ends protagonist Brent would go to build his Northern kingdom. So I jumped back into Roth’s world and prepared myself for both the best, as well as the worst.

 
After finishing the second volume of The Dragon’s Wrath, I am pleased to report that, for the most part, the issues associated with the first volume have been fixed. No more is the reader subjected to tedious reports on the protagonist’s girl troubles; real world sections have largely been forgotten in favor of an acute focus on the in-game activities of the protagonist. This approach both speeds up the remaining world building that sets up the plot, as well as removes the iffy moments of the protagonist’s real life identity, thus, the meat of the volume—the in-game plot—is accelerated and the reader becomes interested in something which resembles an actual plot; this is a step up from the first installment where the narrative moved seemingly at random from one event to the next. Though the beginning reads in much the same fashion as the first volume, this is largely done to finish the narrative scaffolding and to form the basis for the conflict which will drive the remainder of the text.

 
The volume picks up immediately after volume one. And when I say ‘immediately,’ I mean immediately, for there is no summery of the prior events or neat narrative shuffling hinting at self-contained plot matter: in order to understand this second volume one must read the first volume, otherwise, the content will make no sense whatsoever. No in-text re-cap is provided; just pure plot. To me, this works. For as large an undertaking as Roth appears to be engaged in, and as plodding as the first volume needed to be, I would have been fairly ‘ticked,’ so to speak, had he spent additional time going over details he already covered previously. Though some may find this off-putting, or even a cheap gimmick aimed to force people and buy his previous volume, my opinion of it is very high-minded and would advise the author to continue with the tactic. It saves time and urges the reader forward.

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The Trials and Tribulations of a ‘Golden Son’ (A Review)

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Review by Curtis Cole

 
It is hard being a good son. You have to worry about alliances and business partners, not to mention assassination attempts and building the best you can for your family name. When one factors in the competition, all those ruthless Golds whom have it out for you, then the stress can build. And so it is for protagonist Darrow: the father of lies who carved his way into the highest echelons of Gold society to become something worth having for the Sons of Ares freedom fighters.

 
Golden Son is author Pierce Brown’s second installment in the Red Rising trilogy. It continues the story of Darrow, a working class youth who was thrust into the brutal, cut-throat world of the Golds, the elite of society, after his love was murdered before his eyes and the reality of his life on Mars was exposed for a shame; that his kin, the Reds, the lowest class, were lied to—that humanity’s efforts at terraforming the planet had succeeded ages ago and that now they live merely as slaves. Golden Son picks off right where the first left off, at the conclusion of the academy scene. As one might have expected from the title, this second installment concerns family, on what it means to belong and love. The pressing question is asks, of course, is whether the price for belonging is worth the sacrifice.

 
Anyone who has read Brown’s previous book will understand this new product, as it is more of the same, only better. The progressive politics remain intact as is the unrelenting adherence to the necessity of violence to change society. The characters build in depth as their personalities and motivations are fleshed out and given new life upon being thrust into new situations. Plot wise everything has improved; gone are the previous installment’s cannibalizations of other young adult franchises (Hunger Games, Ender’s Game, Divergence), and ‘in’ are the original formulations of honor, love, and navigating a dangerous world all alone. Brown manages to craft a plot which mixes mild romantic inclinations with those of drama and action-adventure. Switching between, but often mixing, several of these genres at once, it is not uncommon to read of the emotional turmoil transpiring during an action scene or vise versa. Brown jumps between intrigue, action, and drama with gusto while never lingering beyond a scene’s prime; scenes of diabolical political backhanding end just when you wish them too, while scene of violence and carnage know not to overstay their welcome.

 
In terms of faults I cannot find too many. Perhaps I could say how some of the plot developments are clichéd but as these almost always lead up to a twist which subverts the original cliché, I cannot fault Brown with their rare inclusion (besides, at the end of the day, this is a book meant for teens and young adults, so a certain amount of the ‘tired and true’ is to be expected). I only found issue with how some of the narrative is handled. At times the plot seemed to run ahead of itself, with the result being that the reader is momentarily confused as they have to piece together what it means when [X] comes after [Y] after character [so and so] speaks of something happening which, previously, was but a dream spoken of earlier. Although these moments are rare, they speak of a tendency for Brown to force a great deal of narrative into a small slice of the page, something which does not always clear up the murky waters. Some of this is intentional, as in near the end of the book, while for other bits one can tell that it was a struggle for him to write in all that he wanted without including an additional two hundred pages, and so he had to dream up some narrative trick as a compromise. I will not say that such moments disturbed me or created a current of dissatisfaction, but I do want to just mention that with all the details in the book to keep track of, some fans may end up a little confused at certain points in the narrative if they have not been closely following all of the background minutia.

 
In the end, Golden Son is a fantastic experience. Regaling the audience with tales of grandeur, heroism, conquest, and a young adult coming to terms with his role in the universe, Golden Son will delight fans of Brown’s first literary effort. Everything has been polished and made to fit with the beautifully realized world. There is shocking twists, epic battles, and existential drama ahoy in this story so anyone with such an appetite will want to continue their path on Brown’s road and see what next happens to Darrow.

 
To read my review of Red Rising, book one of the Red Rising trilogy, click here.

 
Golden Son
Pierce Brown
466 Pages. Published by Del Rey. $9.99 (Kindle), $17.00 (Hardcover), $9.72 (Paperback), $22.04 (Audible audiobook), $45.00 (Audio CD)[1]. 2015.

 

[1] All prices and page estimates were taken from Amazon.com and were accurate at the time of writing.