Book Review: The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna

“I must leave you now,” she says, stopping me with a gesture. She glances from me to Britta. “Do not be stupid, and you won’t die too many times.”

The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna was one of my most anticipated books for this year, and it was as every bit as amazing as I hoped it would be, and more. This review runs the risk of being several paragraphs of me just fangirling about how great it is.

It starts with Deka preparing for, and facing, her village purity ceremony. We learn that the village see her as an outsider like her mother, and the ceremony is a chance for her to prove to everyone that she belongs there. The misogyny is centre stage from the start; women are next to nothing in this book, and even less than that if they cannot prove they are pure. The concept of the ceremony itself is grim, and it is horrifying to see how quickly Deka’s own father turns against her when her blood runs gold.

Her gold blood identifies her as an Alaki, a “demon”, and so she is sentenced to the Death Mandate. But the Alaki do not die easily; they cannot be truly killed until their final death is found. And Deka suffers many deaths, including at one at the hands of her own father, before she is taken by White Hands to join the Emperor’s new army (because of course, he would want to use the virtually unkillable women in an army). This army are tasked with destroying the deathstreaks, terrifying sounding creatures who keep attacking the towns and villages of Otera.

The Alaki are taught to be soldiers, to fight, to kill and to embrace the idea of suffering multiple deaths, however cruel those deaths are. This book is brutal; there is a lot of violence and it’s pretty graphic at times. We are under no illusions about the horrific treatment these girls endure. They are treated appallingly by the men around them, who are truly fearful of female power and determined to control it in any, and every, way they can. Their appalling treatment leads them to form bonds and friendships they might not otherwise have. Deka and Britta’s friendship was a particular highlight of the book; they are more like siblings than friends and Deka is fiercely protective of Britta.

In the second half, this book gets more tense and mysterious. Deka is learning a lot about herself, her mother, and why she is unusual even amongst the Alaki. White Hands, the woman who rescued Deka from her Death Mandate, becomes an increasingly interesting character and had me doubting her motivations until the very end. Ixa also deserves a special mention for being utterly adorable. The twists in the latter parts of this book were brilliant and unexpected and I read them equal parts fascinated and horrified.

I loved that The Gilded Ones reached some resolution, I don’t think my heart could have taken a cliffhanger, and I am really pleased that there is going to be a second book because I am not ready to say goodbye to this world and these characters.

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