Review: The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna

I finished this book last week, and I needed time to process it plus gather some energy to work on this review. If you’ve followed my weekly updates, you already know that I am doing meh. I am doing my best to get through my days, with the support of cat, rats, friends, boyfriend and the TWR gang.

*Me showing the gang some love*

I tried reading The Gilded Ones as an ebook, but I could feel that this was the kind of fantasy where I needed to do something creative while listening to the audiobook. Audible UK didn’t have it, and this is where my problem with using more than one audiobook service came to my rescue. Other than a consumer of Audible’s services, I also subscribe to eStories – and they have The Gilded Ones! I adore the narrator and her execution of her telling Namina Forna’s story. The time spent listening to this audiobook was also spent on practising lineart on my new Wacom graphics tablet. I didn’t have to think, and I just got to absorb the story.

about the book
Title: The Gilded Ones
Series: Deathless #1
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, Feminism
Author: Namina Forna
Narrator: Shayna Small
Kindle edition: 432 pages
Audiobook via eStories: 12:46:37
Published: The 9th of February 2021 by Delacorte
Story – 4 out of 5
Audiobook narration – 5 out of 5

Trigger warnings: Graphic violence, Death, Disownment, Loss, Mutilation, Pedophilia, Rape, Starvation, Trauma, Torture

Publisher’s summary
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.

My thoughts on the book
The writing is fast-paced and easily accessible – which meant I quickly got sucked into the story. The world-building of Otera is big, and I could sense the thoughts and work processes that the author had put into the story. We go from Irfut which is in the North – cold and filled with snow – to the capital in the South with Sun, warmth and bustling energy that can only be found in a capital city.

The characters and the character development is well-executed. When we meet Deka, she is devout and has faith in her believes. She does her best to maintain that faith, but being rejected from her home as well as society, in general, makes her not only aware of society’s actions but also questions them. Not only is The Gilded Ones about Deka and her journey to find her value as an outcast and a young woman in a patriarchal society, but it is also a story about demonic superpowers and love through found family. I love the found family aspect – often in books when other girls or young women are involved – I feel like there is a tendency to pin them against each other. Here, they understand each others’ pain and support one another.

“We all have a choice right now. Are we girls or are we demons? Are we going to die or are we going to survive?”

The feministic viewpoint can in some instances quickly become preachy and too much. However, I find that Forna accomplishes her telling of a female-oppressing religious society effectively without it feeling like she’s forcing a different culture down our throats with too much information at once. It is done gradually. The way we are introduced to society, religion and what a man’s and a woman’s place in society is, is told through Deka, and we experience life through her.

“No matter my origins, there is worth in what I am.”

There’s one thing I love about this book – and that is the fantasy. I can’t fully put my finger on why it affected me the way it did, but I was brought back to my teen days. Days where I was absolutely enveloped in the fantasy that I was reading. I’m not sure if it was the writing style or the atmosphere of the story, it was in a strange way comforting.

Other than fantasy and fighting through the patriarchy, it does get quite graphic – and especially when it comes to violence and mutilation. However, it is not all physical. There is quite a lot of psychological damage as well. I personally don’t mind this and the way it was done felt…genuine – for lack of a better word.

“The physical body—it heals. The scars fade. But the memories are forever. Even when you forget, they remain inside, taunting you, resurfacing when you least expect.”

Now, this all looks very well and good, but you might have noticed I gave this book 4 stars instead of 5 and that all comes down to the last part of the book. It ends up becoming rushed and too neat. It could have been fleshed out more. I know this is a series, but it does not feel like there is much conflict for future books in the series. To me, with the ending we got, it genuinely felt like this could be a standalone book instead of book 1 of a series.

About the audiobook narration

If you get the opportunity, I highly recommend the audiobook. Small’s performance is just wonderful. Her portrayal of the characters was distinct, and I got the sense that every single character was their own person. Her narration helped me get even further into the story than I already was.

About the author

Namina Forna is a young adult novelist based in Los Angeles and the author of the epic fantasy YA novel The Gilded Ones. Originally from Sierra Leone, West Africa, she moved to the US when she was nine and has been travelling back and forth ever since. Namina loves building fantastical worlds and telling stories with fierce female leads.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable YA fantasy, and I highly recommend it for the fast-paced storytelling, the world-building, and the characters.

Balder doing his best pretzel impression

4 thoughts on “Review: The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna

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