Book Review: The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna

The Gilded Ones

Author: Namina Forna

Publication Date: 09 February 2021

Genre: YA Fantasy

Representation: Own Voices (West African inspired folkore; f/f relationship)

Pages: 432

Publisher: Delacorte Press

The start of a bold and immersive West African-inspired, feminist fantasy series for fans of Children of Blood and Bone and Black Panther. In this world, girls are outcasts by blood and warriors by choice.

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. 

The Gilded Ones has been one of my most anticipated reads since it was first announced. I was devastated when the pub date got pushed to 2021 because I have needed this book in my life for so long. That being said, I am so glad that this book did not disappoint!

Young heroines fighting against oppressive systems is a pretty standard trope in YA fantasy, yet Deka’s story feels original and non-formulaic.

Deka is from a small village in the province of Otera that is religious and centers an abusive patriarchy. When girls reach the age of 15/16, they must participate in the ritual where their blood is let to verify their purity. If the girl’s blood runs red, they are pure. If their blood runs gold, they impure and therefore sentenced to death. After being tortured and killed NINE times (those with gold blood can heal themselves), she is given the “choice“ to continue this torment or fight for the empire.

This book is definitely not for the feint of heart. It deals with so many heavy hitting subjects such as racism, classism, colorism, misogyny, torture, and death.

The world building in this book was lush. I found it really easy to immerse myself into pages alongside Deka and her sister warriors.

Speaking of sister warriors, the female friendships were incredible! I loved that there was none of the petty female hate and jealousy that has become way too commonplace in a lot of stories that center feminism. Instead, you see Deka and the other women coming together to battle their enemy: the demons called deathshrieks whom Deka has the ability to control with her voice.

I love that this story was action packed and kept up the pacing from start to finish. I found myself tearing through the pages.

There were some huge revelations in this book especially towards the end, which has left me chomping at the bit for book two.

Overall, this was a fantastic debut and start to the Deathless series!

Thank you to Delacorte Press for providing a review copy. This did not influence my review. All opinions are my own.

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