Review: The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna

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 is The Gilded Ones about?

The Gilded Ones is set in a fictional world in which women must undergo a ritual to prove their purity when they’re teenagers. The ritual involves proving their blood runs red, and in the event that it doesn’t they are deemed demons and subjected to the Death Mandate–a law that stipulates the priests of the temple must find a way to permanently kill the demonic girl, who may not die from all wounds. The protagonist of the story, Deka, has long feared the ritual of purity despite upholding the strictest rules regulating female behavior. When a Deathshriek attack reveals Deka’s true nature, she is killed over and over again with no final death in sight. Until she is rescued by a woman named White Hands who informs Deka of another option: become a warrior for the Emperor, fight the Deathshrieks, and receive absolution.

Genre: YA Fantasy

This book draws on a lot of creativity to build the fantasy world presented. There’s not a whole lot of explicit world building–which is a plus–but what is there is mostly told through the beliefs, words, and actions of the characters. The exposition is very much shown and not told which is really immersive and clever.

Tropes: A Secret History

The subtle world building actually works really well with this trope. For The Gilded Ones, having a ‘secret history’ is about a narrative finally coming to light. It’s a great moment where the reality–which is clear with the clues put together–is finally revealed and it actually is more monumental than expected.

Plot: They just overthrew everything, huh?

The first couple of chapters of this book are spent telling us that the society we’re reading is highly concerned with feminine purity, and anyone who is not pure is purged from society. But things immediately change when our protagonist is brought into the service of the Emperor and begins to discover just what an impure demon is capable of.

The Good

I loved all of the characters, and I really enjoyed the subtle world building aspects. I felt like Deka was a great protagonist because she so thoroughly absorbs her own world’s ideologies. She tells us all we need to know about the political and religious systems of her world just through her fears and doubts. I did enjoy the plot line of Deka figuring out more about her mother’s younger years, though it did feel a little convenient at first. All of the characters were really interesting in their own ways, and I enjoyed reading about the team Deka is on–specifically the friendships that form between the human recruits and the “impure” ones. Even the romance aspects were enjoyable, if altogether unnecessary for the story.

The Okay

I felt that the ending was too dramatic for its build up in a way. Especially considering that this is supposed to start off a series; I’m not sure where the story has left to explore with the conclusion of this book. Perhaps it was written so that it could be a stand alone, in case the publishers were unwilling to put out another one? But in this case, I really can’t see anything more for Deka and her friends to do.

The Bad

I don’t have any bad things to say, really, other than my concerns that I put in the above section.

Final Thoughts

I think this was a really interesting concept and it was executed incredibly well. The characters never feel too much like caricatures, which is easy to do in such a unique take on a fantasy world. Wherever it was easy, in fact, to call upon traditional fantasy tropes in order to make the reader more confident in the world this author instead chose creativity. There were a lot of unique ideas in here, and they were couched in beautifully written and emotional moments between lovable characters. It was easy to be invested, even early on, in their lives because so many of them felt real. I do have my concerns about how the ending will be followed up on. This felt very much like a standalone novel, and the stories for the characters feel finished after reading the ending. While there’s definitely an air of “what’s next?” left by the conclusion, I can’t say there is a hook to find out what that next step is. Things felt wrapped up, and I’m honestly a little confused by what I’m seeing that this is the first in a series.

If you’ve read this book, and plan to read the continuation, let me know in the comments what’s driving you to pick up the next one!

By Catherine

I'm a lover of books, coffee, wine, and bees. Happy to join the ranks of book bloggers everywhere!

3 replies on “Review: The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna”

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