Thank you NetGalley and Delacorte Press for this ARC. All thoughts and opinions are mine.
Synopsis: Sixteen-year-old Deka lives in fear and anticipation of the blood ceremony that will determine whether she will become a member of her village. Already different from everyone else because of her unnatural intuition, Deka prays for red blood so she can finally feel like she belongs.
But on the day of the ceremony, her blood runs gold, the color of impurity–and Deka knows she will face a consequence worse than death.
Then a mysterious woman comes to her with a choice: stay in the village and submit to her fate, or leave to fight for the emperor in an army of girls just like her. They are called alaki–near-immortals with rare gifts. And they are the only ones who can stop the empire's greatest threat.
Knowing the dangers that lie ahead yet yearning for acceptance, Deka decides to leave the only life she's ever known. But as she journeys to the capital to train for the biggest battle of her life, she will discover that the great walled city holds many surprises. Nothing and no one are quite what they seem to be–not even Deka herself. (Amazon)
Publication Date: May 26, 2020
Genre: Fantasy / YA
Rating: 4 stars
***BEWARE POSSIBLE SPOILERS***
The Gilded Ones is not only a coming-of-age story, but also a perfect example that just because you're female and different to the “norm,” does not mean you are less than what is expected. If anything, it gives you the opportunity to show the world that you are not just more than they thought, you are exemplary.
Taken from the life that she has known since birth, our lead Deka is thrust into a class of warriors meant to rid the land of Otera from their enemies, the deathshrieks. Deka is just like her counterpart female soldiers, girls who bleed gold thanks to the legacy of four banned goddesses from which they hail. And while this makes them monsters to others, it also makes them invaluable to the emperor, as Deka and her bloodsisters—all known as alaki—are the only ones able to withstand a chance against deathshrieks and conquer them.
The central cast of this story is extremely pleasing to read. The girls are so strong and bright, they are so resilient despite the horrible things that many of them have had to withstand. And while all of them have suffered in their own ways, I was drawn to both Britta and Belcalis, especially the latter. She exudes strength born from years' worth of pain, and against herself sometimes she shows the loyalty and bravery that's undeniable to who she is as a person. She makes a great contrast to Britta, always warm, always attempting to find the silver lining despite the harsh situations in which they find themselves. Both of these girls are great complements to Deka as sidekicks and best friends.
Deka herself is very likable, very driven. There's immense growth to her by the end of the novel compared to the pious and deeply afraid person that she is at the beginning. If there is one thing that I disliked about her is the fact that her growth happens too swiftly. Not just in personality, but in the rendition of her powers. I would have liked to see this progress maybe even within the span of two books, as impressive as she turns out to be, just to make it come about a little at a time.
That's true throughout the story, however. The Gilded Ones is very easy to read, it goes by so fast, and it's very enjoyable. But there are times when decisions, and the beliefs/thoughts/alliances of characters change far too easily. It takes away sometimes from the struggle of the moment and the steady—and much more believable—pace that could be set. I would have also liked for the alaki training to last more than it does in as far as us, the reader, witnessing it. Yes, it might have made the novel longer, but again this is part of the grappling for existence that these young women have to acclimate themselves to. We begin so strong, and while there are times when it's really rough to read the violence and pain that these alaki-in-training have to resist, it eventually lags and by the time they're going on raids there's no longer that strict sense of livelihood that they apparently had to hold themselves up to when they enter the Warthu Bera where they train.
This aside, the plot is compelling, and there are enough twists and big reveals—the origin of the deathshrieks and their connection to the alaki was my favorite of these—that not only are you kept entertained but it promises future growth for the other book(s) that are coming next. I would have liked more fanfare given to the awakening of the Gilded Ones considering the big occasion, but I cannot wait to get to know them more and see how they shape this world and the lives of the characters. And I have such affection for the bond between Deka and Keita, while being appreciative that the novel did not go by the way of many stories which make “the” romance central to the plot, rather than giving everything else its due importance.
I very much look forward to others enjoying this book and getting to know this bunch of courageous young women and their male partners-in-arms.
Review Also Available On
Goodreads | Amazon | Waterstones