Every once in a while, you stumble upon a new type of fantasy world when reading. This is one of those times: a book review of The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna. The book was released in 2020 and is 417 pages long (432 in the Kindle edition). Being the first novel in the series, it builds up to a sequel in interesting ways. The sequel, The Merciless Ones, was released last year (in 2022).
This novel is Forna’s debut novel, although not her first work with storytelling. On the inside of the book’s cover, I learn that Forna works as a screenwriter in LA and “loves telling stories with fierce female leads”. This is something that becomes clear early on in this story.
Book Review of The Gilded Ones – Welcome to Otera!
The book starts on the day of the Ritual of Purity, a day when girls’ blood is tested to see if they are impure or not. The protagonist Deka lives with her father, a man who is more of a shell of himself after having been sick with the red box. Deka’s mother died a while ago and she lives on a small farm with her father in the village of Irfut.
Despite Irfut being set in the far north, it’s clear from appearances that Deka is somewhat of an outcast. She is set apart from the other girls in the village by the color of her skin, despite being born in Irfut. We learn that her mother was from the southern province, but not much more than that. Before she died, Deka’s mother made preparations for her daughter’s purity ritual. One such thing was putting aside a beautiful dress, something the family couldn’t afford at this time.
The Day of the Ritual
The ritual starts and the first few girls tested have their blood run red, a sign of them being pure and thus fit to wear the mask women wear. This also means that they are fit for marriage. When Deka’s blood is tested, it runs golden – a sign of being impure! She’s taken away, imprisoned by the villagers, and not sure what fate awaits. Later, this is where she is found by White Hands and where she learns more of what she is…
Without spoiling too much of the story I can say this much, there are great differences between the men and women of Otera. The women are very sheltered and restricted in what they can and cannot do! The society is patriarchal and ruled by an emperor. There are also differences in both ways and appearances depending on which province you come from.
How Is This Novel Compared to Others in the Genre?
The Gilded Ones is an interesting fantasy loving. For starters, it’s set in a more exotic environment than other fantasy novels I’ve read. Certain elements are worth pointing out, such as several scenes describing violence or abuse in detail. This makes it suitable for young adults, but not for younger readers.
As far as where in the genre I’d place it, it’s difficult to say. It’s not high fantasy, but some elements set it apart from typical low fantasy. Time-wise I’d say it’s set in a time older than ours but, again, it’s hard to say exactly when. What can be said is that Otera has more history to uncover in the books to come.
To Summarize the Book Review of The Gilded Ones
To conclude this book review of The Gilded Ones, it is a fresh read with a setting that is new makes this an interesting read if you’re in the market for something new to read. Sure, the story is focused on a female protagonist but there is more to it than that. I can’t wait to get my hands on the sequel and see which direction this story takes.
- interesting setting
- It has a typical fantasy world map (yay!)
- is the start of a series – we haven’t been to many of the places marked on the map!
- familiar fantasy lineup with a protagonist and helpers
Cons/points to note:
- graphic violence/abuse. Not for younger readers or those vulnerable to descriptions of abuse in different forms
- some characters lack depth at this point
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