Thank you to NetGalley and Random House/Del Ray Books for giving me a free digital copy in exchange for an honest review!
This book has been on my radar since I first heard about it some months ago. It seemed like such a good mix of fantasy with an odd twist. I wasn’t disappointed, that’s for sure, yet I read book so quickly that when I finished, I thought, “That’s it?” (Is that a good or a bad thing?)
Title: Gilded Cage (Dark Gifts #1)
Author: Vic James
Publisher: Del Ray Books
Release date: February 14, 2017 (today!)
Genre: Young adult, fantasy, dystopian
Length: 368 pages (hardcover)
Synopsis: (from Goodreads): “Not all are free. Not all are equal. Not all will be saved.
Our world belongs to the Equals — aristocrats with magical gifts — and all commoners must serve them for ten years. But behind the gates of England’s grandest estate lies a power that could break the world.
A girl thirsts for love and knowledge.
Abi is a servant to England’s most powerful family, but her spirit is free. So when she falls for one of the noble-born sons, Abi faces a terrible choice. Uncovering the family’s secrets might win her liberty, but will her heart pay the price?
A boy dreams of revolution.
Abi’s brother, Luke, is enslaved in a brutal factory town. Far from his family and cruelly oppressed, he makes friends whose ideals could cost him everything. Now Luke has discovered there may be a power even greater than magic: revolution.
And an aristocrat will remake the world with his dark gifts.
He is a shadow in the glittering world of the Equals, with mysterious powers no one else understands. But will he liberate—or destroy?”
I’m not certain what to make of this book. I don’t mean that in a bad way. I loved the idea of the Equals, the aristocratic class with powers simply known as Skills. Where the Skills come from or how they got them, I don’t think I ever understood. Great Britain is no longer ruled by a monarchy, and hasn’t been for nearly 300 years. There is, in a sense, a ruling family, known as the Jardines with three sons, Gavar, Silyen, and Jenner.
The book opens on a mysterious scene, and we’re left to wonder how this will play into the rest of the book. The sad thing is that it really doesn’t–at least, not to extent that I want it to. Sure, it whets our appetite but we’re never fully satisfied. There’s definitely a lot of politics going on in this book, and while some may be bogged down by it, I didn’t mind. Ultimately, I found it interesting, and it plays such a central role in this book, especially with the Hadleys, whose 18-year-old daughter Abi is a servant to the Jardines while her young brother Luke, is sent to the slave town known as Millmoor. The Hadleys as a family work through what’s known as their “slaveyears”–10 years of their life working for a Skilled family.
I liked all of the characters. I think the three brothers, Gavar, Silyen, and Jenner, are all not as they appear. Silyen is the most vague, while Gavar has a volatile temper, and Jenner… Well, I think he might be my favorite. He’s soft-spoken, a bit shy, and he’s really just thrown onto the back burner for reasons I can’t say because spoilers!
What intrigued me the most is the concept of the Equals and their Skills, and how they came to be. We don’t really get any concrete evidence as to what exactly each Equal can do (like how with magic sometimes we have characters with certain magical abilities over particular elements, etc). Gilded Cage is like an alternative history. Despite that, I still had a hard time separating the fact that this was also contemporary in that there were cars and motorcycles, electricity, etc.–all common things we associate with a modern world. Yet there’s a dystopian element as well. So in terms of world-building, fairly good, but still some fuzzy parts, which I imagine will (hopefully) be ironed out in the next book.
One thing that did frustrate me was all the odd names! It’s stated in the book the Equals have “silly” names for a reason, but it’s frustrating when you don’t know how to pronounce half of them! I found myself simply skimming some of the names.
I will admit that I’m a sucker for those forbidden romance tropes and this has tiny elements of it. Maybe it’ll pan out more in the next book, too, but I can only hope…