This book has been on my radar for a while, especially since my blog tour company, Book Terminal Tours, did a blog tour for this book! Seeing everyone’s amazing reviews and gorgeous posts got me so hyped for this book and while I have some qualms with it, this book definitely lives up to its hype.
I received an ARC of The Gilded Ones from Delacorte Press and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This is an honest, spoiler free review and all thoughts and opinions are my own.
The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna
Published: February 9, 2021
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Genre: YA Fantasy
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.
Jumping in, I like Deka’s character. She grew up in a rigid, patriarchal society that literally states women are not only lesser than men, but created for them. Their role is to remain these pure, virginal items that are tested on their purity before they can marry. This purity, tested by the color of their blood, is a really interesting, but also depressing, way to test if they’re human or demon. I mean, they can’t even use sharp objects or do anything strenuous for risk of outing themselves before the ceremony and ostracizing their entire family.
Unfortunately for Deka, a pack of deathshrieks, demon like creatures who feast on human flesh, appear right at the start of her ceremony and she is outed as an alaki. With her blood running gold, and her voice the ability to command the deathshrieks, Deka is taken in for her death, only to find, she’s still alive. Even after they killed her NINE TIMES.
One of my favorite things about this book is the magic system. Alaki’s are stronger, faster, and nearly impossible to kill. I would kill for the ability to withstand a fatal wound and have my body heal right back up. But Deka is built differently – she has undergone horrendous torture and should have died her final death, but hasn’t. And with her voice able to command the deathshrieks, it brings into question “What is Deka? And why is she different?”
Honestly, this book was very plot focus and while I liked the characters, it felt like we were missing some crucial development. Deka, Britta, and White Hands are the most fleshed out characters, but everyone else seems to fall behind. While I enjoyed Britta’s banter and friendliness, even she is a bit one dimensional at times. Simply serving as the loyal best friend with no further wants or needs. And Keita, her bonded partner in battle, who we rarely seen, somehow falls in love with her over the course of maybe five pages? It was one of the weaker points in this book and I wished we got more time between Deka and Keita.
I mean, how are people supposed to fall in love if they never spend time together? Don’t get me wrong, I adored the history and journey of these women and becoming strong alakis, but if I’m to believe that Deka and Keita fall in love, especially after he admits hating alaki’s, they needed more one on one time together. If we had more build up to their relationship, I would believe it, but at this point I was definitely in shock when he kissed her out of the blue. It just did not line up.
My last big pet peeve of this book was Deka’s inability to remain conscious during any battle scene. Every time Deka uses her commanding voice, she passes out, which we later find because she’s using all her energy to do so. But once that has been established why, and she trains to correct it, it still happens. Every single fight scene except maybe one or two has her passing out in the middle of it, only to wake up to it basically over. I’m not sure if it’s the author trying to avoid writing fighting scenes, because hey, I get it, I suck at writing them too, or if it’s because she just wants to move the book along, but it was so much passing out. So much.
Overall, I really did enjoy the book and while character development is very important, if you’re someone who enjoys the plot of a book more than the characters, you are going to love this book. And if you’re more of a character driven person, this has been a warning that you may not like this book as much as others. But, this is still a great book. I loved the lens we get on how women are treated across the world, which is not great, and the patriarchal provisions put in place to keep us in ours. And, I always love badass female warriors who fight for a greater cause!
If this book sounds interesting, be sure to check out Forest of Souls by Lori M. Lee.