Book Review: Iron Gold
It's always nerve-wracking when a series you loved gets a sequel series. Will the sequel series live up to the first one? With Iron Gold, the answer is yes - though it's a radically different world we're now in.
Iron Gold jumps forward several years. Darrow is leading the war against the Society remnants holed up in the inner planets, while Mustang leads the fledgling republic as Sovereign. But the people are tired of endless war, especially when there are so many problems at home. Darrow's flouting of the Republic's authority sends him on the run with a small crew of Howlers, armed with a crazy plan to take Venus and end the war. Meanwhile, Lysander and Cassius stumble into a Rim plot, an emotionally broken Gray takes on an impossible heist job for the Republic's biggest crime ring, and a young Red travels from Mars to Luna, only to get embroiled in all the drama.
Unlike the first series, which was told solely from Darrow's perspective, there are three additional viewpoint characters here: Lysander, Ephraim (the Gray), and Lyria (the Red). It's easy to see why: while the first series was the story of a revolution's figurehead, this series focuses much more on the fallout of that revolution, the ripple effects spreading out through the solar system. Darrow is only one piece of that; to truly understand it, we have to see the new Republic through more than just his eyes.
Ephraim and Lyria were welcome additions for me. Ephraim is still a mess from the death of his husband, a familiar character to readers of the previous series. He blames Darrow and the Rising for stealing his love, and so refuses to consider the impact of the job he's hired to do. Of course, once the job is fully in motion, he realizes he does still have a heart - and what he's doing is wrong.
Lyria, on the other hand, was promised a whole new world when she was liberated from the Martian mines. Instead, she got refugee camps and abuse for being a Gamma. When almost her entire family is killed in an attack, she manages to get into the Telemanus household and travels to Luna, where her desire to fit in leads her to make a dangerous friend - and also revisit her negative feelings about the Sovereign.
Their stories dovetail together and connect with some old friends from the previous series. It's some of the best writing in the book.
Lysander was more of a mixed bag for me. I wanted to like him, I really did, but he doesn't seem to have learned much from his grandmother's overthrow. He still thinks Golds are destined to rule, even if his interpretation of that is a little more benevolent. He lacks the noble quality I've always gotten from Cassius (and which I still get from Cassius here). And when someone takes a chance to free him from imprisonment, he turns around and betrays them to his captors. His sections aren't poorly written; the character just rubbed me the wrong way, and I found myself looking forward to getting out of his chapters despite the fascinating intrigue of the Raa court.
Darrow is also frustrating. He's really embodying that Harvey Dent quote here: "You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain." I feel like Brown resets his emotional growth in every book, because once again we're back to the Darrow who ignores his friends' feelings and desires in favor of his own gain. It's caused so many problems for him in the past that you'd think he'd know better (and indeed, I thought he'd finally learned his lesson in Morning Star). Alas, not so. He drags Sevro into exile with him and stretches Sevro's loyalty to the breaking point, not to mention the trouble he causes Mustang and his son. And of course, this is on top of flouting government authority because he believes he knows best. I love Darrow, but it's hard to root for him here.
What's sadly missing from this book are my two favorite female characters from the first series. We see Mustang only briefly and from a distance. We see even less of Victra (though what we do see is glorious). There are new additions here and there, but it's frustrating to watch Mustang and Victra get sidelined for most of the novel.
Plot-wise, this is Brown's most complex book yet, as it runs three plot threads simultaneously: Darrow's desperate gambit to take Venus, Ephraim and Lyria's two sides of the heist, and the stirring of war in the Rim, as witnessed by Lysander. Brown juggles all three deftly; it never feels like one of them is moving faster than the others, and they all reach their high points together. The end of the book becomes an exercise in how fast you can turn pages to reach the conclusion.
There's also a lot of new worldbuilding. The first series took place primarily on Mars, with occasional stints elsewhere, but Iron Gold spends very little time on Mars. New locales include Earth (with a really cool prison) and Venus. The Rim benefits most from the worldbuilding, as Brown fleshes out their independent culture and gives the best scene of the entire damn book to Romulus au Raa.
It's clear that Brown is going for a darker study of what happens after a revolution here, and it works really well. While the book has some flaws and doesn't approach the height of Golden Son for me, it's still an excellent read and a worthy successor. And from the book's ending, it's clear that there's more trouble on the horizon for Darrow and our new friends. Can't wait for Dark Age!