In their fifteenth year, girls are cut. Red blood means pure. Gold means demon.
Girls deemed pure may proceed with their patriarchy-approved lives. Those deemed of demon origin (also known as alaki) are rounded up (by the men in charge) and tossed into the deepest, darkest dungeon… or wherever else men like to toss them. Yes, this book deals with heavy themes (misogyny, racism, abuse, torture, child abuse, and off-page rape), and it does so extremely well. In these dark places, alaki girls are then drained of their cursed blood (a valuable commodity, oh the irony some men will roll with) and repeatedly killed until their true death is discovered (the unique manner of death that can kill an alaki).
Deka’s blood runs as gold as anything.
And in the span of a cut, she goes from village outsider (people distrust her darker skin) to outcast. The color of her blood is all it takes for villagers (including her dad; what a keeper) to recoil in disgust, fear, and hatred. After all, qlaki, with their unnatural lifespans and abilities (supernatural strength, speed, and healing), are demons. And demons should be killed. Deka is drained and killed nine times (yes, this book is gory, but gore and violence are never gratuitous here) and eventually saved by the mysterious White Hands. White Hands carts Deka off to a place where she will be trained to become a warrior in an elite alaki army and receive absolution (from her sin of being a demon)… if she survives the battle against the Deathshrieks.
The Gilded Ones celebrates ethnic diversity and delivers an engaging cast of female characters. If you’re looking for back-stabby girls, you won’t find those here. In a world where the patriarchy is as oppressive as in The Handmaid’s Tale, The Gilded Ones is all about female empowerment and supportive I’ve-got-your-back friendships. There’s a slow-burn romance, which I expect will take off plot-wise in book two. The cast is big, but each voice and character are distinct.
With a plot that will have you biting your nails down to the quick and lush world-building, Forna has created a YA fantasy genuinely deserving of the word epic.
Book: The Gilded Ones
Age Range: 14 – 18
Publication Date: February 9th, 2021
Penguin Random House kindly sent me a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion, rating, or the content of my review.