REVIEW | The Gilded Ones | Namina Forna

We’re monsters, and they’re going to treat us like monsters. They’re going to use us, bleed us, and when they’re done, they’re going to find whatever our final deaths are and execute us one by one.

This incredible debut has been on my radar forever, and it absolutely lived up to all the hype I’d heard. This is a strong start to a fantasy series and I’m already so impatient for the next book! Not to mention, look at that gorgeous cover.

Rating: 4 stars!

Thanks to Usborne Publishing for the eARC of this book. It has not affected my honest review.

Content Warnings: death, murder, bloodletting, violence, mutilation, torture, starvation, disownment, parent loss, grief, rape, paedophilia

About the book:

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.

What did I think?

This book made it impossible to believe this was Namina Forna’s debut novel. The writing is gorgeous and evocative and once I’d started, I just couldn’t put it down. I read the whole thing in one go while I was feeling ill, and totally forgot about feeling bad as I was swept away into this beautiful world. This intense, feminist fantasy is a violent and gory experience and I am absolutely addicted to it. I’ve recommended it to a dozen people already and I know that I’m going to reread it once I have a physical copy in my hands.

Deka is an amazing protagonist. At the start, she’s very much a victim of the patriarchal society that she’s been raised in. She’s quiet and submissive and deeply vulnerable because that’s the way these women have been raised to be, and we get to see her develop into someone more confident and brave throughout the course of the book. It made me absolutely fall in love with her and I can’t wait to see how much more she develops throughout the rest of the series.

This book truly is violent, a complicated mess of death and gore. The alaki are almost immortal, each has a final death and anything less than that will put them into a healing sleep, and their ability to not die is tested to its full extent throughout the novel. I was blown away by how brutal it got early in the book and it had me totally invested from the first few chapters. I didn’t love the romance, but it was weighed really well against the rest of the book so wasn’t overwhelming in the way that some YA romance subplots can be. Instead a lot of the book was focused on the relationships between Deka and the other alaki, her sisters in arms, and the unusual power she has to control their frightening enemies: the deathshrieks. The whole world is so interesting and Namina Forna has a knack for creating a world that unfolds and makes the reader hungry for more information.

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Release Date: 4th February 2021

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