Hey guys! Today I’m reviewing one of my most anticipated reads of 2021. I saw people speak about this book on Twitter, blogs, Instagram, and Goodreads and was waiting to read it myself. Now that I’m done reading it, I have some thoughts to share with y’all. Also, I found this interesting interviewon the author’s website, so I’m leaving it here.
About the Book
Title: The Gilded Ones • By Namina Forna
Published on: 4 Feb 2021• By: Usborne Publishing Ltd
Pace: Fast • Pages: 403 • Age: 15 and up
Deathless#1 • Genre: YA Fantasy
Song: All the Stars by SZA, Kendrick Lamar
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.
Rep: Black (mc) , Queer (sc), Black & Brown (sc)
• Deka of Irfut
Deka was an eager, gentle, trusty, and an innocent girl. When she was told she was impure, demon, unnatural, she is ready to correct them. She doesn’t believe that she has demon blood running in her veins. The Infinite Wisdoms says people like her are demons, so she was beaten and persecuted for nine times.
The first few chapters of this book were so brutal. Reading about Deka’s persecution felt real and seeing her father disowning her only because she had golden blood in her veins told how he preferred to believe in his faith and not even listen to or defend his daughter.
Deka was a slow learner. Her lessons were mostly rooted in the Infinite Wisdoms, so she was shocked to know that women could be part of or lead an army or cut their hair. She is terrified and broken after remembering how her father left her and turned his back on her. So when White Hands offers her to take her to a place where there are others of her kind, the alaki who have great powers, she doesn’t think twice and accepts it.
It takes her a long time to come to terms with who she is and accepts White Hands offer, to serve in emperor Gezo’s army along with other alaki, to save Otera from any evil forces.
Deka’s journey from Irfut to the last battle in the end of the book was an interesting one. She learned to unlearn her past and started a fresh new page in Hemaira. She felt so uncertain and scared in the beginning because she had to leave back her whole life and start a new one, which was perfectly portrayed in the book.
Her pain and trauma were visceral and felt so real to me. Those two were the strongest emotions that made Deka more alive.
So I liked how she grew into this self-dependent, brave, and headstrong person in the end, which was a complete contrast to who she was in the beginning.
One of the reasons why Deka was able to change her life was because of her friends. In this book they are known as bloodsisters. They were alaki who will be with each other in battle and life. There was only one insta-friendship that felt too soon and fast, but other than that, Deka’s friendship with the others was gradual and made stronger with the training and interactions.
Britta was the sweetest person known to her and her first ever true friend, whom she meets on her way to Hemaira. Britta was scared, lively and chatty. Deka never imagined that she’d have any friend anymore, but she was glad that she had someone to be there for her.
Though Belcalis, Adwapa, Asha, Britta, and Deka were forced to train together, they became closer after spending days in training. They shared their pasts, trauma, hurt, and loss and developed a bond that was unbreakable.
Belcalis was intimidating. She was the equal and opposite of Deka. Besides Britta, I think she understood Deka more than anyone.
I loved reading about how these girls fought together in the end. They had gone through so much and they came out strong and formidable in the end. That growth was brilliantly covered in the novel.
Now coming to the fantasy aspect of the novel, there was one enemy for Otera– the Deathshrieks. They are these menacing, nocturnal creatures, who have attacked Otera for centuries. They mostly attacked during the purity ritual and stole impure girls, because they’re all so delicious!
They are the enemies whom the alaki are trained to fight against. Each alaki was paired with a male recruit. They were called uruni, meaning brother in arms. While bloodsisters were forever with their partners in crime, their uruni were free to go once their alaki was dead.
Deka was the only alaki ever known to have the power to command the deathshrieks. She would utter an order and they’d be hypnotized and follow her words, without protest. All she had to do was say stop, and they’d stop. My only complain with tjis was that I hoped it was done in a more imposing manner than sounding so plain.
So the bloodsisters and their uruni were a team of sorts, who fought against these deadly creatures and would hunt their nests and destroy them with Deka’s intel. Thus earning them the title, deathstrikers.
These raids were the most action filled chapters in the book. There was a temple where Deka finds 4 Gilded Ones, from whom the alaki are said to be descended. That chapter was amazing with the details and the setting; I remember it so vividly even now. These raids at least adventurousness besides the massacre and gore.
• Demons and Goddesses
One of the important question in this book was, “how and who says one is a goddess or monster?”
This book was about showing how women were judged based on their purity. They were controlled by religion and history written by and for men. It overlooked and robbed their voices and muted their contributions to history and made them demons. So people were told the Gilded Ones were the demons, ones who are to be feared and never to be like them. So it was good to see how patriarchy, misogyny, and history were questioned and acted upon in the book.
I absolutely adored how colors worked in this book. It was a kaleidoscope of images, adding more life and texture to this book. The golden blood, green robes, orange-red armour, red walls of Warthu Bera, bright-yellow sun-figured mask, etc., were all so alluring and striking that made this book so colorful and remarkable.
The Gilded Ones is brutal, enticing and an original. I loved the fantasy aspect of this book, which was seeped with folklore elements and how it interpreted death and rewrote history. It wasn’t an easy feat to achieve but the characters had a greater force working behind them. There was a mystery element in the plot as well. Deka’s mom never told her about her ancestry and that somehow was synonymous to how people hid alaki’s history and downplayed their powers.
I had some issues with Deka’s character. She seemed to accept things easily. The training part felt like fillers and the last few chapters felt rushed. After the twist, everything happened too fast to process. Keeping this aside, the book was top-tier for a debut novel. It’s fresh, and definitely brought something new to the table, so I highly recommend it.
The Gilded Ones gave me all the abilities I would need to survive in a world primed to kill me.
TW// Beheading, Dismemberment, Grief, Blood, Graphic Description of Murder and Violence, Sexual Abuse, Rape mentioned, Trauma, Whipping, Misogyny, Religion used to justify violence.
About the Author
Namina Forna is a young adult novelist based in Los Angeles, and the author of the New York Times bestselling epic fantasy YA novel The Gilded Ones. Originally from Sierra Leone, West Africa, she moved to the US when she was nine and has been traveling back and forth ever since. Namina loves telling stories with fierce female leads and works as a screenwriter in LA.
Have you read this novel or is it on your TBR? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.
“You’re only given one little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it”
— Robin Williams
[…] The Gilded Ones ★★★.5 ❘ Read my review here. With an epic premise and magic steeped with folklore and feminism, this book was […]