This week’s Biblioshelf Musings is about a fantastically rich, character and culture driven YA fantasy called The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna. I first received this book as a physical ARC in June 2020’s FairyLoot box and it has taken me until now to finally get around to reading it – although what better time with its release date set for this week! With a premise of Children of Blood and Bone meets Black Panther, I definitely went in with high expectations and – there were definitely not disappointed!
Book: The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna
Genre: YA / Fantasy
Publication Date: February 4th 2021
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Synopsis (from Goodreads)
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.
One of the 2021 reading goals I wanted to set myself was a quest to read more diversely. Spending so much time with my head in the pages of authors such as Cassandra Clare, Sarah J Maas and Holly Black was lovely (and great for my ‘modern fantasy must-reads’ game), but with more prominent and widespread news coverage about issues surrounding race and diversity – now was as good a time as any to kickstart my goal with The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna.
There were so many things I enjoyed whilst reading this book, but the biggest one by far was the group of characters. These girls were pulled together from all across Forna’s fictional kingdom of Otera and were made up of all different heritages, classes and backgrounds. I loved the way their friendship knitted together as they showed each other their vulnerabilities and then supported and empowered each other to become fierce, strong warriors. You can’t help but have empathy for these girls, especially people like Deka and Belcalis whose sufferings are so brutally told – then admire the loyalty people like Britta, Asha and Adwapa show to Deka even at a time when they may be unsure of her motives.
The beginning of the novel is pretty much atypical of other YA fantasies – you can see what is coming and where it’s going, but when the group of alaki (the girls whose blood runs gold) get to their training camp, the author really kicks things into gear and the story begins to unfold in a riveting fashion. I loved learning about the mythology surrounding the alaki and it was on the deathshriek raids where I found the world-building to be particularly strong – there were a couple of particularly amazing scenes in temples which really appealed to the wanderlust in me!
In her author’s letter at the end of the novel, Namina Forna explains to the reader that this book is an examination of patriarchy. She outlines the questions that she wanted to try and answer through her narrative and boy-oh-boy did she deliver on them. This story is all about the idea of the ‘Goddess’ and how women have been continually supressed by a male-dominated world, practically forcing themselves to become monsters and demons just to survive. Whilst the sad reality is that this is probably a more true-to-life reflection of what some girls and women may face in cultures and civilisations left in today’s world, the incredible storytelling of the author has managed to address this in a creative and magical plot which provides an intriguing and interesting story.
After the ending, I’m still left with so many questions about where this story goes now. Whilst I could predict parts of what happened and what was revealed at the final showdown, I’m definitely intrigued and curious to see how the next instalment plays out and what else lies in store for Deka and her fearsome group of friends!
Why Should I Read This?
For a well-paces, character-driven plot where you can really get inside the mind of Deka, the MC.
For an empowering group of women who support each to overcome the stigmas and suppression enforced on them by the patriarchy.
For a lavishly dark, rich fantasy stepped in West-African culture and magic!