The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna (2021) Review

Be your destiny

Why I picked up the book:

 I read this book earlier in the month for Andy’s book club. As her live discussion approaches, I felt compelled to reread it as an audiobook! I guarantee the discussion will be fantastic, and I want to have facts/impressions fresh in my mind. Perfect opportunity to add this to my botwathon TBR!

We follow 16-year-old Deka as she goes through her village’s rite of passage – a blood ceremony to determined women’s purity. Instead of red, her blood runs gold, and with this, Deka fears the worst for her fate.

Deka is then offered an opportunity that feels like a lose-lose. Still, she simply can’t pass: a mysterious woman offers to help her escape if she will join her alaki army and fight for the emperor. Alaki are near-immortal girls with rare gifts like herself. 

With Deka and her journey, this feminist, West African-inspired fantasy starts. Their tagline says it all:

In this world, girls are outcasts by blood and warriors by choice.”

The book through my criteria lens:

I felt that the atmosphere, both psychological and world-building, was really well done. I thought that I understood the society Forna set for us, and the overall world was one I had a lot of fun visiting. At the same time, it made me sad knowing it is eerily similar to things happening in real life right now. The author masterfully crafted parallels to our world. Personally, I found her world easy to imagine, and I can’t wait to see Forna continue to build it.

The main characters were fresh, particularly Deka and Britta. I enjoyed how they have slowly developed, giving us time to get to know each of them. Forna crafted them with depth and gave each a distinguishable strength and personality. For the first episode in a series, I commend Forna for putting this much care into the large cast of characters.

I slightly struggled with parts of the book – I felt that the romance didn’t add to the plot, as there was not enough tension built between them. I know it’s a YA novel, and maybe that’s why I didn’t let me bother as much, but I wonder if this romance wouldn’t have been better on a later book. I also had difficulties with the time jumps. I feel that the atmosphere would have been more epic if, instead of jumping in time, Forna had fleshed out certain events.

I will add that none of that took away from my enjoyment. In fact, I read the physical book and the audiobook within weeks. I highly recommend the audiobook as Forna has introduced many words that I am unfamiliar with; listening to them has improved my reading experience, and Shayna Small’s narration was superb.

My personal feelings:

The Gilded one was immensely violent and visual, which in my opinion, would make an epic movie. Forna’s world and the story beg for this visual representation. I would love to compare an audio-visual interpretation to the one I imagine. I am aware this is a selfish wish as I am also awful at picturing wars and violence, I can stomach it in a movie, but I rarely ever allow it to form in my head.

My favourite parts of the book were both the representation and how it used fiction to criticize contemporary issues such as racism, sexism, abuse, xenophobia, violence, and social injustice. The Gilded Ones has black, Asian, and homosexual characters, but representation was woven into the story powerfully and respectfully.

I think the empowerment and feminism that oozes from the pages make this a great YA novel for young girls who do not always know they can advocate for themselves and refuse to internalize misogyny. This is a YA book that features sisterhood and women’s solidarity. You won’t find frenemies or girls being mean to others in its pages. I wish I had a book like this when I was growing up.

I can’t wait for the rest of the series!

wonder if it will work

Enjoyability     9

Characters       9

Ambience        10

Fairness          10

Plot                  10

Execution        9

My total rating: 4.75

Review for this book is mentioned in this video: Check Later


Until next book, be the hummingbird!

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