*I received a copy from the publisher via Netgalley in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*
Sixteen-year-old Deka fears for her life in anticipation of the blood ceremony that will declare her human or an abomination. On the day of her ceremony, her blood runs gold, and the village turns on her. Until a mysterious woman arrives with an offer: submit to the Emperor by joining his army of gold-blooded girls, known as Alaki, or stay imprisoned in her hometown. Deka proceeds to journey to the capital, joining other girls like her, girls who bleed gold and can’t seem to die—making them perfect fighters against the vicious Deathshrieks that can take down even the most seasoned warriors. As she prepares to become a soldier, Deka discovers that something is different about her power, and she must find the truth before anyone else does.
Well, I must admit, The Gilded Ones was a surprisingly brilliant read. I went into this book with a relatively neutral mindset, very enticed by its cover, and found myself enjoying this one.
The Gilded Ones is a high fantasy novel that deals with racism, xenophobia, misogyny and abuse. The world that Deka resides in is extremely patriarchal that makes young girls go through a ceremony where if she bleeds gold, she is deemed impure. This will most likely end in death or slavery. Gold-blooded girls are almost impossible to kill, their ability to heal at lighting speed makes them demons, according to the village priests. Deka goes from being the village demon to a soldier in training at one of the Emperor’s greatest training halls. The other girls hail from towns from all corner of their world, going from strangers to sisters-in-arms in just weeks.
The lore of The Gilded Ones is where I think the series will shine the most. Deka and the other girls are descendants of monsters which makes them extremely resilient to most damage. The origins of the death shrieks are so fascinating. The land of Otera is vast and diverse. I was conflicted on what I wanted more: continue to read Deka’s story, or wanting to read about the past. Because there’s a lot of information I think could’ve pushed to the present that would not have dragged the book down, but enhance the current world more. The worldbuilding was well-done, very descriptive, and I can imagine any sequel will build and improve upon what we see.
A high fantasy novel of this kind would not be what it is without its characters. And Namina Forna delivers! Deka starts off someone entirely innocent, due to her upbringing, and she grows up very quickly after discovering the truth. She is terrified of herself and soon realises it’s not her fault the world decided she was a demon, so why should she be afraid? The only issue I noticed was that her powers were introduced and developed very quickly. I feel like some progression could’ve been dragged over to the sequel to make it more balanced, rather than immediately push her into the role of a Chosen One. It doesn’t help that the training scenes are skipped over in favour of a time jump. The central casts are all girls who, like Deka, have been made leave home and become warriors. All of them have their own story and stand firm in their own right. Their personalities stood out, loud and distinct, not one faded into the background. And their quips are hilarious and on point.
For most of the novel, the storytelling is pretty great. The pacing and flow are pretty consistent. I’m not sure how to best describe this, and I’ll do this without mentioning any plot detail. But some moments lost momentum because we’re made to recall something that had happened previously. Something pivotal would occur in the story, and then Deka would remind us of something that happened before because it now holds relevance to the story. This didn’t impact my enjoyment while reading, nor does it affect my rating. I just noticed it happening a few times in the novel.
Overall, I was thoroughly surprised by The Gilded Ones. Much of my expectations were met, and I had a lot of fun learning about the world of Otera: one I would like to see more of the world in any upcoming sequels. The story ends in a complete way; if you had told me this was a standalone novel, I would’ve believed you. The events of the first book are tidied up quite nicely, enough that you could be satisfied to leave there if you wish, but I’ll be anticipating what happens in Deka’s story next. This series has the potential to be something extraordinary.