Lately, I’ve been into darker, political fantasies. I loved Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, and I loved The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin. Both would fit into the dark political fantasy group, I think, as would Gilded Cage. At first, I found reading Gilded Cage unsettling and uncomfortable, and I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to finish it. I’m glad I did, though. What I found so unsettling was what the premise of the book looked like in action. In James’ British society, the world is ruled by the Equals, those who are born into families with Skill, essentially magic (but don’t ever call it that!). Since the Equals are clearly superior and clearly do everything for the betterment of all (…right), those without Skill are forced to serve them. However, their system of slavery is unique. Each commoner must serve 10 years of his/her life as a slave to the Equals. During those 10 years, the commoners relinquish their rights wholly and completely. They essentially put their lives on hold. Commoners may choose when to serve their slavedays, but it has to be after the age of 10, according to the law. Parents may choose to do their slavedays, and essentially force their children to join them. In Luke and Abi’s family, this is what happens. Once their younger sister turns 10, their parents decide they will all do their slavedays. Abi has secured a place for the family on one of the Equals’ estates, which is perhaps a cozier use of slavedays than the factory towns. However, Luke, the middle child, is placed into a factory town away from his family. The narrative flits through different viewpoints, mainly Luke and Abi’s as they learn about what slavedays are really like and deal with various struggles, such as falling for one of your masters and dealing with a resistance group. Other viewpoints given are from various Equal citizens, deeply entrenched into Luke and Abi’s society and lives.
Overall, I ended up enjoying this book a lot. The first few moments of the family’s slavedays and jarring and deeply uncomfortable, as they should be. I liked the multiple viewpoints here because it allowed me to really get a full picture of this society, what slavedays are technically supposed to be like, and what they really end up being. I’m a fan of political fantasy, and this does not disappoint in that arena either. There are so many moving parts here, and while the reader gets the full picture, most characters don’t. I finished the book last night, and I’m still mulling over all of the connections and all of the places that this series could go, and it’s exciting. In addition to the politics and courtly maneuvers, there is also some action here, but not a lot, which some readers may not prefer. I was so engrossed by the worldbuilding, politics, and characters that I didn’t mind.
The characters are very intriguing people. Luke and Abi are fairly straightforward characters, and to me, serve the purpose of being protagonists that readers can understand in this world that is very different from ours. Abi is more willing to accept hte world as it is, at least at first. Luke, on the other hand, finds himself drawn to revolution after his experiences in the factory town…and I’m a sucker for revolutions. The Equal characters, on the other hand, are mysterious. The Jardine family, whose estate Luke and Abi’s family are sent to, are a fascinating bunch. From the cruel lord and patriarch to the powerful and sly youngest son and the heir who I still don’t quite get, I was entranced and repulsed in equal measure. These people clearly see no reason slavery is abhorrent, and don’t acknowledge their own contradictions or breaking of laws once. They are powerful and drunk on the power. Some are more sympathetic than others, but when you really think about the ones who appeal, you realize they’re not all you want them to be. I do wish there would have been a little more depth to the characters at times, but I have a feeling that things like that often grow over the course of a series.
Overall, this book gave me a lot to think about. The society is ruthless and power driven and not as foreign as we want it to be. The politics are there, the characters are there, and the fantasy aspects, while a little light at times, are there. I’m really interested to see where the series goes (and I would love to see more of the world outside of England, as different countries have dealt with Skill in different ways). The ending left a bit of a hole in my heart, but also a lot of eagerness to see what happens next (and I apparently don’t have long to wait as Vic James’ website says installment #2 will be published in July!). If you’re intrigued, and don’t mind political fantasy, check out Gilded Cage when it is released on February 14.
Note: I received this book from Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. This has had no impact on my review.
Rating: 4 stars