Gilded Cage by Vic James
(Dark Gifts #1)
Published: February 14th, 2017 by Del Rey Books
Genres: Fantasy, dystopian, young adult, alternate universe
Trigger Warnings: violence, death, gore, slavery, gun violence, torture
Pages: 368 pgs.
***I received a copy of this book free from the publisher & Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.***
Not all are free. Not all are equal. Not all will be saved.
Our world belongs to the Equals — aristocrats with magical gifts — and all commoners must serve them for ten years. But behind the gates of England’s grandest estate lies a power that could break the world.
A girl thirsts for love and knowledge.
Abi is a servant to England’s most powerful family, but her spirit is free. So when she falls for one of the noble-born sons, Abi faces a terrible choice. Uncovering the family’s secrets might win her liberty, but will her heart pay the price?
A boy dreams of revolution.
Abi’s brother, Luke, is enslaved in a brutal factory town. Far from his family and cruelly oppressed, he makes friends whose ideals could cost him everything. Now Luke has discovered there may be a power even greater than magic: revolution.
And an aristocrat will remake the world with his dark gifts.
He is a shadow in the glittering world of the Equals, with mysterious powers no one else understands. But will he liberate—or destroy?
In a world where only few are truly Equal, what does it take to level the playing field? Though this question is the same one we’re asking ourselves in light of recent political developments, it’s one that becomes the main point of conflict in Vic James’ Gilded Cage. While, at first, I wasn’t completely feeling this book, I soon learned to eat my words as the story progressed on. It’s not without criticism, but Gilded Cage completely exceeded my expectations.
Set in an alternate timeline of our world, a race of powerful humans — calling themselves Equals — have gradually taken over major governments across the planet. Due to their magical abilities, the Equals have assumed dominion over everyone who does not share the same gifts. As a result, every normal person is required to spend ten years of their lives serving in slavery to the Equals. However, unrest is growing in the UK in one of the many slavetowns around the country. Will there be an end to the deliberate inEquality, or will the peoples’ sacrifices be for naught?
The major gripe I had about Gilded Cage was, truly, how long it took for the history of this world to unfold. While I can definitely understand the logic of James wanting to leave somewhat of an air of mystery surrounding this alternate timeline, but I felt that it got to the point where it truly was excessive. I shouldn’t have to wait nearly half the book in order to get an answer on how Equals came into power across the globe; it should have been a point introduced early on with the concept of Slavedays. There are still some other, more minor details, character decisions, and disappearances that have me scratching my head, but I’m assuming these might be addressed in the next book — and I don’t want to reveal any spoilers.
What I will say, however, is that James can write some nuanced, interesting characters. It’s a struggle enough to make sure that one’s singular main character is fully-fleshed out like Luke and Silyen are, but James has chosen to tackle a rotating point of view: a different narrator for every chapter. While this trope is becoming increasingly popular in modern fiction (hey, George RR Martin), it takes a skilled writer to not only undertake this approach to POV, but also completely nail it. At no point did I feel like narrators were blending together, like they weren’t coming equipped with their own unique takes on situations that at least three or four other characters were also facing. I commend her on pulling this off as well as she did.
Of course, being able to tackle that many characters at once also lends itself to being able to write a plot fascinating and engrossing enough for readers to remain interested, despite the swapping of narration. While this may not have been James’ intent — or even on her political radar — when she first wrote Gilded Cage, seeing the parallels between the growing revolution amongst the oppressed as they take on the aristocratic, power-hungry Equals and the individuals currently sitting in positions of power in both the US and the UK truly is an interesting thing to behold. Gilded Cage is packed with tons of fast-paced action, which is great for fans of the dystopian genre. However, there’s still enough of the thrilling, dramatic politics that will make fans of cozy mysteries and the like want to pick this up.
Is Gilded Cage a perfect book? No, but what book is nowadays? (Not even Harry Potter, and y’all know how I feel about HP.) However, all I’m looking for when reading is having an entertaining, gripping story that doesn’t make me hate every single character I come across, which is exactly what Gilded Cage did for me. There are some hiccups along the way, and I really wish exposition didn’t take up a huge chunk of the book, but I’m okay with that. By the end of it all, I left the book feeling satisfied — and that’s more than I can say for most books these days.
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