What remains after you change the world? That is the central question of Iron Gold, the first installment of Pierce Brown’s new trilogy set in the Red Rising universe. The revolution is over, and a new Republic has risen from the ashes of the oppressive empire that ruled for generations. However, war still looms as the now-legendary hero Darrow struggles to bring the inner planets—still under the control of the brutal Ash Lord and the Society—under the Republic’s dominion. But endless battles come with a cost. His crusade costs millions of lives, threatening not only the new Republic but also Darrow’s place in it. The Reaper’s new world is moving on, and new stars are rising. The heir of the deposed au Lune family, raised in obscurity, makes a discovery in the Gulf. A soldier-turned-thief struggles with his grief after the Rising. A Red girl, now free from the mines, tries to rebuild after she loses everything.
While the Red Rising trilogy primarily focused on Darrow’s struggle, this new chapter spends as much time on the consequences of his actions, past and present, on those around him. The book still contains many of the kinetic fight scenes that were a hallmark of the first series. Golds still cross razors in painfully visceral duels, and armies still clash in grand fashion in the skies. However, it is in the stories of his new characters that Brown shows real mastery. We feel their confusion as they struggle to adapt to their changing worlds. We sympathize with their frustration with the way things are—even when their frustrations are at odds with one another. As he tells their tales, Brown reminds readers that within the small and specific, there is something universal.
If there is one drawback to Iron Gold, it is its length. While no single scene in its nearly 600 pages is superfluous, there is a lot of setup—especially in the first few hundred pages—that takes a while to pay off. Impatient readers may wonder why we care about our newest characters, why Brown spends so much time on them rather than focusing on our hero. But it’s worth the wait. Without those careful chapters at the beginning, the book itself would be much less satisfying.
Iron Gold makes us come to terms with ourselves as readers. It is satisfying to watch a protagonist bomb an entire world to bring about a new order. It is satisfying to watch them tear it all down, to free the oppressed. But as readers, we aren’t often asked to sit through the pain of what comes next. We aren’t asked whether our heroes can decide that they’ve done enough or whether they will always be fighting—whether they can turn instead to raising a family or rebuilding a society. Iron Gold asks us those questions, and some answers aren’t what we want to hear. However, it’s those uncomfortable answers that make Iron Gold such a refreshing and impressive read.