A review by roguebelle
The Gilded Ones, by Namina Forna

dark fast-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Plot
  • Strong character development? It's complicated
  • Loveable characters? No
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? It's complicated


I could heartily recommend this book to someone looking to get into YA fantasy, particularly if that reader is from a marginalized community and wanted to see herself as the protagonist in such a story. I would have to do so with the suggestion that she look carefully at the story's content warnings, however, as there is a lot of graphic gore and less-graphic sexual violence embedded in the narrative.

For frequent readers of YA fantasy, the general patterns and tropes will be apparent from "go". A sixteen year old girl faces a Ritual (yes, capitalized) dictated by her patriarchal and puritanical society. Things go Terribly Wrong because she is Different, and in the rest of the story, she must Embrace Her Destiny (capitalizations mine, here). Standard fare, but it's certainly nice to see more diversity applied to those tropes.

The religious themes are heavy-handed with little room for nuance, but in a way that's fairly typical for the genre. The story's "big twist" is easy to see coming a mile away for any genre-savvy reader, and getting to that point is a bit of a bumpy ride. The narrative sort of careens between training montages and infodumps, without giving us a lot of time to appreciate the characters. We're often informed about personalities, but we get less opportunity to see them on display.

The predictable YA romance is predictable and rather boring. There was absolutely a more interesting choice, and if I continue with this series, it would mostly be to see if the author pulls a bait-and-switch on the expected direction and makes the bolder choice later on.
SpoilerI mean, seriously, pair Deka up with Britta and suddenly this whole story is a lot more interesting.

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