The Gilded Ones, by Namina Forna
Her blood proves her worth. Deka lives in Otera, a land that has ritualized the patriarchy to keep women in their place. ‘The Gilded Ones,’ Namina Forna’s debut novel, takes you deep into these themes and more.
As girls reach their sixteenth year they are sent to the village temples for a ceremony to determine their purity. If their blood runs true they become a member of society. If their blood runs gold a girl is impure and sentenced to death.
What is not shared about these gilded girls is that gold blood does not just mark them as unworthy of society but as something more. They are stronger, faster, and much much harder to kill.
As Deka’s blood ran gold I immediately thought of the Red Queen Series. If you are at all concerned they are too similar – young women, outcasts of society, supernatural powers, oppressive governments – then let me assuage your worries. By chapter three ‘The Gilded Ones’ has set its own pace and story.
Then we meet the deathshrieks. They are supernatural beasts with razor-sharp claws and a scream that can kill. They are the plague of Otera, raiding towns, and the capital city. Unexpectedly, they interrupt Deka’s ceremony. Chaos and death are everywhere. Deka reveals an unknown connection to them stopping the incursion but leading to the town turning on her and naming her Demon. She is killed and then killed again.
The attack reveals her as gilded but unique even among the gold-blooded. As, no matter the method of death, her sinews reattach and she rises again and again from her tortured endings. This strength is her salvation. A woman comes to her in her cell and gives her a choice. Join the emperor’s new ranks with other young women with similar gifts as hers and gilded blood – the alaki. They will be the army to fight against the deathshrieks and save Otera. Then, after 20 years of service, she is allowed to become a pure member of society. Or, she can stay in her village dungeon being drained and killed over and over until her true death is found.
Forna makes clear that the gold blood is a symbol that women have long been thought of as property. An object to own, pass around, tell how to live. She builds a world as rich and clear as any you have seen on screen. In fact, the novel reads as though watching a movie. The imagery is rich and the characters are clear.
In fact, one complaint is that certain areas seem a bit rushed. Like the alaki training. However, if ‘The Gilded Ones’ were a movie that would have been a montage anyway. I value the time spent on the characters. They are genuine, and Namina Forna has given Deka the best squad. Their strengths support her weaknesses and vice versa. Deka’s girlfriends are the circle of support you want your daughter to have. And, Deka is the heroine we can all love. Her growth from pious and obedient to independent and strong is beautiful.
What’s Next for Deka?
‘The Gilded Ones’ could be a stand-alone novel. The ending wraps up all the major storylines. However, there is absolutely more to explore in Otera and I am patiently awaiting Deka’s next adventure.
P.S. Can we talk about that cover for a minute. How gorgeous is it?! Beautiful.