the gilded ones

Hi friends! This was the book I received for my February OwlCrate Box! Each month you get a new title. Often they’re signed or have unique covers – I loved this cover – along with some really cute goodies and things from small artists. While I’m not an OwlCrate rep (I wish!), I would highly recommend checking them out.

Synopsis & Quick Thoughts

The Gilded Ones is the first novel in a new series by Indie author Namina Forna. Sixteen-year-old Deka’s blood is gold – a sign of impurity in the empire. Knowing she faces a fate worse than death, Deka leaves with a mysterious woman and joins a group of girls like her – alaki – fighting for the emperor against the land’s most terrible threats and monsters. Along the way, she makes friends, learns about who she is, and uncovers secrets about the empire.

This book was a lot of fun. Admittedly, I was hesitant after reading the synopsis because it gave off major YA cliché vibes. You know, the one that every woman and her dog has written about a girl in a dystopian world being ‘not like the other girls’ but she’s the Chosen One, etc. etc.. This book isn’t really like that at all. I greatly enjoyed the cast of characters and friendships developed throughout the plot. The twist was pretty okay. It’s super feminist and diverse and covers important topics without being in-your-face about it. It’s definitely not perfect, especially when it comes to the romance and some obvious plot holes, but hey. An enjoyable time.

Positives

Hands down, the best part of this book was the DOPE GIRL FRIENDSHIPS. One of my least favorite tropes of all time is girl-on-girl hate and that didn’t happen at all! All the cute girl friendships warmed my lil heart. What more, these secondary characters were developed, and had personalities and backstory. Although the writing was simplistic and a little cliché at times, I appreciated the depth of all of the characters; it felt like each of them existed in the book for a greater purpose than to serve the plot, which is really important to me. It made the world feel believable and more immersive.

This book had a lot more grimdark than I was expecting – trigger warning for topics of abuse, rape, and torture. It tackles topics like racism, xenophobia, feminism and the patriarchy really well. I don’t enjoy when an author lays it on thick when it comes to poignant message they’re trying to get through to the reader; there’s none of that here. The worldbuilding is done on top of these difficult issues and explored through the plot in a way that I found to be very well-executed for a YA fantasy novel.

Y’all know I also love when a book has a contained plot within a single book that isn’t obvious sequel-bait. This novel could absolutely be read as a standalone without feeling like you’re missing out on something bigger. I’ll have to read the synopses for the rest of the books in this series as they come out, but I always appreciate when an author doesn’t string me along for a sequel.

Negatives

I have two issues with this novel in retrospect. Nothing that would prevent me from reading further books in the series, but notes nonetheless. The relationship in this book is very, very rushed. I don’t read books like this for the romance subplot, but it felt like most of the buildup to the relationship happened off-page and suddenly we the readers were expected to be invested when there was no content shown to us to make us feel that way. I was disappointed because the two characters seemed cute together and had chemistry, it was just very out of the blue and lacked the small building moments to create the believable foundation in the relationship.

I won’t get too far into the second issue I have with this book because I think it was an oversight and doesn’t have direct implications on the majority of the plot. However, we’re led to believe that before the bloodletting ceremony to determine if these sixteen year-old women have pure blood or not…none of them have ever bled before? Ever? Not a single girl gets her period or a bloody nose or trips and falls or gets a scratch before the age of sixteen? I call BS.

Rating & Final Thoughts

I’ll say it: I’m giving The Gilded Ones 4 out of 5 stars. Although this is a somewhat standard young adult fantasy book, I give it major props for the cast of diverse characters, good friendships, and the way it handles heavy and important topics. If you’re missing the good ole YA fantasy days and want something with perhaps a bit more substance, give this one a look. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Buy The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna here.*

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