Overall Rating: 3.5/5
One of my reading goals for this year is to not only read more books by Black authors but to also expand on the types of books I read by them. I have primarily read narratives geared towards educating myself or stories rooted in the Black experience and while I absolutely intend to keep that up, I also wanted to check out genres that have generally been dominated by white authors. First up – fantasy! The Gilded Ones is the first book in the Deathless series and is set in a patriarchal theocracy. 16-year old Deka is awaiting the day of her purity ritual so she can finally be accepted into society but when the day of the ceremony is threatened and Deka’s blood runs gold, her world shifts on its axis. An exhilarating adventure, alluring characters, and a fantastical realm – The Gilded Ones has everything you need to get your fix of escapism while simultaneously striking a provocative chord with its terrifying parallels to modern tools of oppression.
The beginning of the novel drew me in instantly. I typically take some time to get into high-fantasy novels simply because there is a new universe to learn about but Forna’s world-building is so well-executed that it did not take much effort at all. All of the characters are wonderful in their own regard; from Deka to the Emperor, each is multi-dimensional and fascinating, which makes for a highly engaging read. The female camaraderie in particular was my favorite part of the book – I loved reading the interactions between the warriors and this was an element that was well developed from beginning to end. Most of all, the focus on friendships comes before the love interest, which I adore! Romance is great and I enjoy that as much as the next reader but given the premise of this novel, this was one of those cases in which I preferred that it took a back seat. The women needed to shine and it was so satisfying to watch them do exactly that.
As badly as I wanted to love everything in this book, there were certain things I could not get past. Let’s start with the book’s genre – it is marketed as YA which makes sense given the writing style and general plot. However, this book is incredibly violent, and I found the incongruence between the adult content and young-adult story-telling confusing at times. Additionally, while the book started off so very strong, it started to decline in terms of character and plot development as it progressed. It felt like the book skipped a “middle” and perhaps this is just me, but I wanted to see so much more of Deka’s initial growth. The ending also felt rushed, especially considering how many pivotal turning points were revealed at the time, but the story jumps from one to the other in rapid procession.
Overall, I would recommend this book to all my fantasy lovers out there because it has so much potential! There are many things I can criticize in this book but the groundwork for the series is solid. You have a well-developed setting, diverse and badass characters, and a compelling history to set this up for a very exciting trilogy that I cannot wait to explore. Have you read The Gilded Ones? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!