Book Review

The Gilded Ones

  • The Gilded Ones
  • Author: Namina Forna
  • Genre: YA Fantasy
  • Publication Date: February 9, 2021
  • Publisher: Delacorte
  • Series: Deathless #1

Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with the opportunity to review this ARC. All opinions are my own and provided voluntarily.

CONTENT WARNING: discrimination, torture, reference to sexual assault

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Sixteen-year-old Deka lives in fear and anticipation of the blood ceremony that will determine whether she will become a member of her village. Already different from everyone else because of her unnatural intuition, Deka prays for red blood so she can finally feel like she belongs.

But on the day of the ceremony, her blood runs gold, the color of impurity–and Deka knows she will face a consequence worse than death.

Then a mysterious woman comes to her with a choice: stay in the village and submit to her fate, or leave to fight for the emperor in an army of girls just like her. They are called alaki–near-immortals with rare gifts. And they are the only ones who can stop the empire’s greatest threat.

Knowing the dangers that lie ahead yet yearning for acceptance, Deka decides to leave the only life she’s ever known. But as she journeys to the capital to train for the biggest battle of her life, she will discover that the great walled city holds many surprises. Nothing and no one are quite what they seem to be–not even Deka herself.

There were so many incredible things that drew me in, starting with the cover. Can we seriously just take a minute to appreciate the absolute gorgeousness of the cover? It’s what drew my attention to the book at first, because let’s be honest, I definitely judge books by their covers (at least initially), but after reading the description, there’s no way I was passing this one up.

Deka grows up in a kingdom that is steeped in a patriarchal religion. As someone who has been fortunate to grow up in a society that affords equal opportunity and freedoms to women, I was astounded at how oppressed the girls and women of Otera were:

“The Infinite Wisdoms forbid running, as they do most things that don’t prepare girls for marriage and serving their families. According to them, girls can’t shout, drink, ride horses, go to school, learn a trade, learn to fight, move about without a male guardian. We can’t do anything that doesn’t somehow relate to having a husband and family and serving them.”

I think what hit me hardest about this passage is that it isn’t just a far-off, made-up fantasy world, but that there are girls and women who actually live like this in OUR WORLD, presently. And that’s a terrifying realization.

In addition to these strict rules limiting what females can do, there’s a creepy Ritual of Purity that all girls have to participate in before they belong in the village, and become considered as a woman who is marriageable, which is obviously the ultimate goal in life. And by ultimate, I mean, only.

“Later this afternoon, Elder Durkas will test me and all the other sixteen-year-old girls during the Ritual of Purity. Once we’re proven pure, we’ll officially belong here in the village. I’ll finally be a woman — eligible to marry, have a family of my own.”

In addition to this, Deka is a dark-skinned girl in a place where this is looked down upon. While Otera is diverse, her town is not, and it’s just another way she stands out. Until the day of the ritual, when her dark skin becomes a drop in the bucket, and she finds out that she stands out in an incredible way.

“No matter how quiet I am, how inoffensive I remain, my brown skin will always mark me as a Southerner, a member of the hated tribes that long ago conquered the North and forced it to join the One Kingdom, now known as Otera. Only the Ritual of Purity can ensure my place.”

I literally got chills while reading this book, which is an extremely rare occurrence for me. Deka joins an elite fighting group made up of girls just like herself, and is forced to rely on instinct and a group of girls who have committed to getting through the experience together. Deka learns more than she thought possible about pain, friendship, family, love, and surprises.

I found the story to be set in a fascinating West African-inspired world, one that absorbed my attention right away and didn’t let go until I had finished reading the entire story — in a single day. But it talked about discrimination, empowerment, and how women who don’t fit the mold manage to survive in an oppressive patriarchy. But don’t judge the book by its cover — it’s so much more than just a pretty picture. Even though the release date has been postponed until February 2021, it is definitely worth the wait.

People who have sat around with me while I’m reading, especially when there’s a surprising reveal, a shocking plot twist, or an unexpected event often look up in alarm when I gasp audibly. The gasp factor is directly related to the number of times I audibly gasp during a reading, and there isn’t an upper limit.

Gasp Factor: 15

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