The Gilded Ones
Author: Namina Forna
Pages: 432 pages
Genre: YA Fantasy
Published: February 2021
Rating: 5 Stars
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.
I can’t believe it took my over a year to take this off my bookshelf and read it. I really enjoyed it and was easily sucked into the story!
‘Who better to fight a monster than another monster?’
The Gilded Ones begins with Deka in Ifrut, her village, and she is anticipating the blood rite. This ceremony is something all girls must go through once they reach the age of sixteen, those that bleed gold, the colour of impurity, are killed, over and over again. Deka has never truly felt like she belongs as her mother is from the south and her skin is darker than those in the north. She has been picked on and ostracised in her village for this reason, so she hopes the blood ceremony will finally show them that she belongs. Unfortunately, things don’t go according to plan and Deka finds herself imprisoned being brutally murdered by her father and other older members of the village. I was shocked to see the main character killed so early on, but when it described her head rejoining her body, I was so intrigued and had to read more to understand what was happening.
‘Deka and I are bloodsisters. We belong together.’
After a few days, a lady Deka refers to as ‘White Hands’ arrives to offer Deka a change to leave and be part of an army of girls who will fight for the emperor as an alaki. From here, Deka leaves with White Hands and enters a training camp at the capital. The see girls are trained to kill deathshrieks and are all partnered up with their uruni. Even amongst other alaki, something is different about Deka, and we join her for her journey to figure out what it is. I loved the friendships made between Deka and the other alaki, particularly Britta and Belcalis. Belcalis has gone through a lot of trauma. I think the scenes between her and Deka were well written as it showed them supporting each other. Whilst it’s not a main focus of the book, there is a romance subplot which I adored. Keita is her uruni and is partnered up with Deka. At first they do not get along, but they slowly being to learn more about each other and have mutual respect!
‘I think I’m something much better. I’m your uruni, now until the day of our deaths.’
This story is set in a deeply patriarchal world where women and girls are beaten and treated awfully. It deals with so many issues, such as racism, misogyny and trauma. If you plan to read this, I would recommend searching for trigger warnings before hand. This is such an empowering feminist novel in a high fantasy setting and I think everyone should read it.