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Book Review

Book Cover

The Gilded Ones


Author: Namina Forna
Publisher: Usborne
412 pages
RRP: £8.99
ISBN: 978 1 4749 5957 5
Publication Date: 04 February 2021

Deka is coming up for blood ceremony, a ritual all young women endure when they become women. The women are cut, if they bleed red, they are welcomed into their womanhood, but if they bleed gold, they are considered demons and are killed...

The Gilded Ones (412 pages) is a new young adult fantasy novel, written by Namina Forna. This is her debut novel.

At its heart the book is an examination of patriarchy, inequality and injustice, mainly against women. Central to the story is Deka. When she bleeds gold, she is tortured for her blood. Being actual gold, this is valuable, not only as a saleable item but also as a base for armour. The book never really explains how this is possible, gold being metal and only liquid at extreme temperatures. Deka, like the other demons, can be killed numerous times only to regenerate, this cycle of bleeding and regeneration is endless unless the demon is given its final death.

Deka and the other demons are rescued from their torment by Lady White Hands and taken to the capital to be trained to kill the deathshrieks, a demonic plague on the land. The emperor is putting together an army, and warriors who can be killed and regenerate are a precious and deadly resource.

Although the book sets out to examine societal inequalities for women, the actual structure of the book is very traditional. It's another young person with hidden power meets a wizard/wise person, which culminates in a battle where the young person comes into their true power. I’m not sure why so many fantasy writers are drawn to this structure. True it is one of the most popular tales told in all cultures, but this causes the problem that you know where the story is going as soon as you know the structure of the narrative. It didn’t take very long into the book to work out what and who the deathshrieks are.

Deka is an engaging young heroine of colour who struggles to see her beauty. Partially this arises from the fact that she lives in the northern provinces where the indigenous peoples are mainly Caucasian. So, she starts her story already a relative outcast, with low social status due to her sex. Her journey firstly details her growing realisation that she has equal value as the men, but also, she has her growing power.

Forna has produced a book that can be enjoyed by both sexes. The book is packed with well-constructed action sequences and Deka’s is a character that it is easy to feel empathy for. The book does not shy away from discussing the patriarchy fear of the growing power of women, but this is woven into the fabric of the story and it never feels like the author is smacking you around the head with the message. The message is there if you're open to it, otherwise you can take it as a well written YA fantasy novel.


Charles Packer

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