Thanks to NetGalley and Del Rey Books for providing an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
Release Date: February 14th, 2016
Not all are free. Not all are equal. Not all will be saved.
Synopsis: Our world belongs to the Equals–aristocrats with magical gifts–and all commoners must serve them for ten years. But behind the gates of England’s grandest estate lies a power that could break the world.
A girl thirsts for love and knowledge.
Abi is a servant to England’s most powerful family, but her spirit is free. So when she falls for one of the noble-born sons, Abi faces a terrible choice. Uncovering the family’s secrets might win her liberty, but will her heart pay the price?
A boy dreams of revolution.
Abi’s brother, Luke, is enslaved in a brutal factory town. Far from his his family and cruelly oppressed, he makes friends whose ideas could cost him everything. Now Luke has discovered there may be a power even greater than magic: revolution.
And an aristocrat will remake the world with his dark gifts.
He is a shadow in the glittering world of the Equals, with mysterious powers no one else understands. But will he liberate–or destroy?
Gilded Cage has had a lot of buzz surrounding it for several months now and I’m glad to say that after reading it, I’m a fan. The setting is contemporary Great Britain in an alternate universe. The country is ruled over by the “Skilled” ruling class who have a variety of magical powers. The “un-skilled” are required at some point in their lives (they choose) to serve ten years as slaves. Abi, the oldest sister of the Hadley family has arranged for their entire family to serve out their slavedays together on the gorgeous Kyneston estate which is home to the most powerful family in the country. Naturally though, things go awry and sixteen-year-old Luke is separated from his family and sent to the dangerous slave town of Millmoor. The characters in this are incredibly complex which is the main reason why this novel succeeds at the level that it does. The story is told in the third person by Luke and Abi in alternating chapters. They’re everything you want to see in your protagonists: courageous, clever, and good-hearted. They can both be a little naive and gullible when it comes to trusting others, but this just makes them even more likable. There is quite the motley crew of secondary characters. There are some truly black-hearted villains with absolutely no redeeming qualities whatsoever, and the narrative pulls no punches exploring the depths of their depravity. But there are others whose personalities and motivations are much harder to figure out, and they keep you guessing right up until the end. The world-building is beautifully done. The opening chapter gives you the sense of a thoroughly modern day Britain, with Luke and Abi out studying in their yard. But then you’re suddenly yanked into this fantasy/dystopian world. I especially liked how this book referenced the UKs international dealings with other governments, some who function under the same social system and some who don’t. And then there’s all the political wheeling and dealing and backstabbing going on behind the scenes. It’s made me very curious as to how this will all play out in the next two books. There are just three things that kept this from being a perfect read for me. First, except for two black secondary characters, there’s a distinct lack of diversity which really surprised me especially since the story is about oppression. The second issue I had was with the slavedays themselves. People have the choice as to when to serve their ten years, so why don’t more choose to wait until they’re in their later years? I’ll be honest and admit to being a total procrastinator, but it makes more sense in putting off giving up ten years of your life until the last possible moment. I mean, by then, you might be dead anyway. But, I realized early on in the book that I needed to just let this go, and the rest of the story is enjoyable enough that I was able to do so. And finally, there’s the awful sort of romance between Abi and Jenner, the middle son of the “Equal” family that owns her family. Abi is an otherwise feisty, independent and intelligent girl yet the way she moons over a boy who quite literally owns her is just ridiculous. Thankfully this subplot is a relatively minor one which is a good thing because it had me grinding my teeth. The plot is fast-paced right up until it’s cliffhanger ending, even with all the complicated world-building going on, and I finished this in two days. Overall, Gilded Cage is a captivating read and an intriguing and imaginative addition to the fantasy and dystopian genres which should appeal to older teens and adults alike.