The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna
Trigger Warning: Graphic murder (on page), sexual assault (off page), racism, xenophobia
Deka is a young woman coming of age in Otera, a kingdom that values the purity of its women. Pure women bleed red, and young women are forbidden to bleed from fifteen until they are proven by the Ritual of Purity. When Deka bleeds gold—the color of demons—she is given a choice: die over and over at the hands of greedy, frightened men who want the cursed gold of her blood, or join the Emperor’s new army of women like her. Cursed. Evil. Deathless.
Never forget: the same gift they praise you for now, they will kill you for later.
HOLY SHIT HOLY SHIT HOLY SHIT
The HYPE IS REAL and I am disgusted with myself for stepping into it with such low expectations and so many reservations. I almost didn’t pick it up, particularly after the release date was pushed back nearly a year due to the pandemic (for shame, publishers! this could have been in so many girls’ hands for almost a fucking year!), but as soon as I read the first sentence, I was entranced, and by the end of the first chapter, I was hooked.
I absolutely loved this book. This is an insightful take-down of the patriarchy (although the solution was a little too…trade one thing for another, but we’ll see what book 2 is like) while also being a really, really solid military fantasy!
“You will be at the forefront of the emperor’s armies,” she declares. “You will ride into battle and fight for the glory of Otera, and you will win the war against the deathshrieks or you will die trying—however many times that may take.”
I was not expecting to love the military aspect of this as much as I did, particularly since a lot of YA fantasy or YA with military aspects have um, cursory research into how militaries work but this was…wow. From the bureaucracy to how people interacted within the system to the shaving of hair (and what that meant in this society where women are either pure or sullied) to how leaders were addressed to the movements of the women throughout the patrols, it was damn well done. Okay, the whole brother bonding thing was weird, but it made sense within the world.
If I ever had any doubts of my new status, they were erased the moment my hair was tossed into the furnace like it was nothing. The Infinite Wisdoms state that a woman’s hair is her greatest pride, the source of her beauty and womanliness.
Deka’s unpacking of her upbringing—of being the only Black woman in a village of whyte people, of being deemed unpure before she was even tested, and then subjected to horrifying deaths and torture—was very well done. This is a hard book that does not shy away what it means to be an unpure woman in an overtly religious, patriarchal world—it means that the woman is worthless, or worth only what fleeting pleasures her body can be used for in terms of men. She is an object, and that objectification translated throughout the book as the Deathless rose to prominence in their devastating ability to murder the scourge of Otera—the deathshrieks.
Even Deka’s status as different from the other Deathless due to her ability to sense the deathshrieks was well done. She is the Chosen One, but chosen for what? Her abilities continue to expand and evolve, as does her growing understanding of her enemy.
And the concept of The Enemy was well done too. No spoilers here, though, but there are enough hints scattered through early enough that suspicions get raised.
As for Deka’s friends—I really, really loved reading how this group of women, who had been cast aside from their societies, who had been limited their entire lives, began to flourish and lean on each other for support, and began to create bonds of sisterhood and find worth outside of the constrictions and imposed limitations of their upbringing. The joy of learning to run and fully use their bodies when they had been literally fettered, was tearfully amazing.
YA fantasy has burned me in the past, but this one has lit my fire, watered my crops and made me dinner.
If you’re feeling a little jaded by YA, give this one a try.
You won’t be disappointed.
I received this ARC from NetGalley for an honest review
The Gilded Ones releases February 9, 2021 from Delacorte