Synopsis – Goodreads
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.
Okay I’m going to try my hardest to make this review sensible and not just chock full of gush. Bare with me because I may not succeed.
The Great: First things first, I’m completely in love with the found family trope, which permeates most of the story. It was done so well and seamlessly. Often we forget that we can develop strong ties to the family we choose when our very own betrays us. And from the moment the main characters, Deka, Britta, the twins Adwapa and Asha, and Belcalis meet, I could sense that their group would be a force to be reckoned with. Of course I hadn’t predicted that it would extend to their male counterparts, or uruni. But by the end of the book I loved them all.
Speaking of which, I especially loved the friendship and sisterhood between Deka and Britta. They were the shining stars of the book for me. Britta is the best friend you’d hope to have and wish to be. Fiercely loyal and not afraid to call you on your shit. She brought balance to Deka’s character development and became my favorite from the minute she splashed onto the pages.
Next, the world-building. Forna did a fantastic job revealing the various layers and histories of Otera. Although, at the start of the book, there were some confusing parts (which I expect from the first book in a fantasy series) it was easy to understand the magic system, the origin story and the various differences among the regions. I have now found a new fictional place that I’d love to visit.
Lastly, I absolutely adored the romance. Now I don’t know if it’s because I read a lot of romance and contemporary fiction, but I could spot Deka’s love interest from the second he entered the story. That being said, it was definitely not the most important aspect of the storyline, which I really enjoyed. I also appreciate watching their relationship progress from possible enemies to true lovers. What’s this character’s name you ask? Ah ah ah, no spoilers here my friends lol
The Good: Two themes that particularly stood out to me in this book are: patriarchy/patriarchal society and its negative effects, and the realities of women empowerment. As much as I’d like to believe that we’ve made tremendous strides against patriarchy, sexism etc. It is still clear and still relevant in today’s society. But this story gave me hope and reminded me just how powerful women are.
The Not-so Good: There were some minor pace issues. More specifically, regarding Deka’s character development. It felt a bit rushed in the first half of the book. Although it didn’t take away from the story for me, it was definitely noticeable.
I will admit that I couldn’t stand Deka for the first hundred pages of the book. But as I watched her grow and develop, she’s become one of my most beloved characters along with Britta and Belcalis.
There were also some believability issues with the world and customs at the beginning for me. But as aforementioned, I fell deeply in love with the world quickly and was able to reconcile some of my doubts.
Overall, The Gilded Ones is a great and necessary read. And if you’re a fan of YA Fantasy, West African Folklore and a story dripping with women empowerment, then this is definitely the book for you!
Publication Date: February 9, 2021
Author: Namina Forna
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy