A review by cathman
The Gilded Ones, by Namina Forna

4.0

"Who better to fight a monster than another monster?"

Deka has been waiting for this day - the Ritual of Purity, when she and the other sixteen-year-old girls in the village of Irfut will be tested to see if their blood runs pure. Maybe afterwards, she'll be treated more like she belongs, instead of the exclusion she feels due to the dark Southern skin she inherited from her mother. But as she stands with her father in line, deathshrieks arrive. Gaunt creatures with clawed hands dragging by their knees, spiked spines, and black eyes, their cries damage and even kill. They are known to attack villages, stealing impure girls. Deka feels a tingling before they show themselves and attack, and when, desperate, she yells at the creatures to leave, they do so. This sets off alarms for the village elders, who have Deka killed, and she watches as her blood flows, golden.

She awakens, imprisoned, to accusations of being impure, a demon. The elders continue to have her killed, harvesting the gold blood spilled, until a woman arrives for Deka one day. White Hands, as Deka names her based on her gauntlets, offers her a chance. Deka is an alaki - worthless, unwanted, sentenced to death. But White Hands has been sent by the emperor to recruit alaki into an army to combat the deathshrieks at Otera's borders. They are amassing at their primal nesting ground, and the best army are those who can heal from almost any death. Each alaki has one method of death that will cause their final death, but any other method is simply an almost death, from which the alaki will heal during the one to two week long gilded sleep. The elders have proven during her imprisonment that Deka's true death is not beheading, burning, drowning, hanging, poisoning, stoning, disembowling, bloodletting, or even dismemberment. With nothing left for her in Irfut and the promise of absolution after 20 years of fighting, Deka agrees. That is how she finds herself at the Warthu Bera, training alongside other alaki and the uruni, their brothers-in-arms, learning about her powers, and discovering why her mother wore a necklace with the insignia of the okai, the emperor's spies.

I loved the friendships formed in this book (though I'll admit since I read it a little quickly I did sometimes confuse some of the secondary characters). Women in this world are required to wear a mask covering the face from forehead to nose, and are severely limited in opportunities. Everyone has to learn to support one another while they fight side by side. A couple of surprising plot twists in this (I was actually mulling over some possibilities while I was flossing last night and something similar to the actual plot popped into my head and I had to stop and think about it). Fast-paced and wrapped up nicely - I see it's projected to be a trilogy, though I could honestly just see it ending here. I would have to see the description for the sequel to say whether or not I would read it. This one could be interesting for fans of Sorcery of Thorns or Children of Blood and Bone. Also, what a gorgeous cover!

Thank you to Random House and NetGalley for the eARC. The Gilded Ones will be published February 9 2021.