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. 

Succeeded by The Merciless Ones

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Excellent exploration of themes. A fast paced fantasy. Twists that surprise and a splendid incorporation of lore. This harrowing yet brilliant debut consigns fear and hope through a tale that embraces in the midst of rage and warmth. Thank you to Usborne Publishing for the opportunity to read this early!

The Gilded Ones is a young adult fantasy that places women with power in the centre and examines patriarchy through beliefs.

Born to a mother from the south, Deka has always been marked as an outsider in her father’s northern village. But the Ritual of Purity can finally declare her as someone who belongs, celebrate her newfound womanhood in this patriarchal society, if her blood runs red. When the red changes to a glimmering gold, it’s an instant death sentence for Deka. For an impure woman like her, a demon like her, the apparently righteous elders are determined, desperate to end her life. But when she doesn’t die by anything —from a brutal beheading to a barbaric burning— and the so-called cursed gold continues to flow through her veins, she’s marked as unnatural: a monster.

Played out in a world where women are oppressed and backed by a strong influence of religion, the misogyny, the bigotry, and the violence reflects with saddening clarity. The greed for power, the desperation to place a hold on the entire kingdom, and the need to reinstate sexist structures continues to build an overarching narrative that must be fought against. Subsequently, this fantasy gives enough purpose for empathy to flow in relation with the realistic themes.

The chosen one trope inevitably brings in a cliche but the strong indication of internalised feelings stemming from the racist, colorist, and sexist stereotypes perpetuated through years easily casts an aspersion on the flawed society. The slower dismantling of the submissiveness, gentleness, and meekness drilled into the mindsets of women in this misogynistic kingdom is lined with realism and allows the discovery of Deka’s power within oneself to shine brighter. The instinctive want to protect other women and instantly eye men with hatred depicts the unfortunate yet survivalist psychology that an oppressive environment produces, and also allows sisterhood and the subtle romance to flourish with intrigue.

Though, the lack of depth depicted through the main character didn’t allow enough care to be placed by the reader and the under-delivered details of the world brought down the possibility to be completely immersed in the fiction. Having said that, the diversity allows the feminist motif to be highlighted by inclusion and the mix of magic and monsters keeps one interested enough. A slight disappointment for those who expect an epic fantasy ridden with intricate attributes, or literature that focuses on immense character development rather than being majorly plot-driven, or a young adult fantasy — because the graphic descriptions and brutally realistic portrayal of an oppressive empire unquestionably make it an adult read.

Overall, as a first in the series, The Gilded Ones does set up a strong foundation for the themes of feminism and empowerment to proliferate through a plot that surprises through revelations and a writing that’s easy to comprehend. Regardless of the pacing or the want for more characterisation, this fantasy does excite one for the sequel, and the way it forces readers to wonder why women with unknown power are immediately, without any contradiction, considered demons in a patriarchal society.

my rating ↣ ★★★★☆

Buy the book: Amazon US | Bookshop UK | Amazon IN


5 replies on “Book Review: The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna

  1. Love this review, Fanna! I’ll be honest, while I’ve seen this book around I don’t know much about it. But your review was so good and now I am very excited to read it some time.

    Liked by 1 person

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