Gilded Cage by Vic James
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Publication date: 26 January 2017
Genre: Young adult fantasy
Page count: 416 pages
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
I was sent a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This review is spoiler-free.
Gilded Cage was such an interesting reading experience for me. It started out incredibly slow — to the point where I considered setting it aside in favour of other book several times — but had one of the most explosive and exciting endings I’ve ever read. Parts of it were absolutely amazing, while others just didn’t wow me at all.
In modern-day Britain, magic users control everything: wealth, politics, power—and you. If you’re not one of the ultimate one-percenters—the magical elite—you owe them ten years of service. Do those years when you’re old, and you’ll never get through them. Do them young, and you’ll never get over them.
This is the darkly decadent world of Gilded Cage. In its glittering milieu move the all-powerful Jardines and the everyday Hadleys. The families have only one thing in common: Each has three children. But their destinies entwine when one family enters the service of the other. They will all discover whether any magic is more powerful than the human spirit.
Have a quick ten years. . . .
My main issue going into Gilded Cage was that I felt like we had seen this all before. I liked the concept of a modern, alternate Britain that is ruled by an aristocratic class that has magic, or the Skill, and commoners must serve as slaves for ten years of their lives, a period called one’s ‘slavedays’. This sounded great, but the execution was where it went wobbly for me. The book starts out with an underwhelming plot until we get into the second half of the book. The groundwork has been laid out at this point and the plot can really get going. The last third of the book is an absolutely astonishing roller coaster ride that I absolutely loved, but I really had to fight to get there.
Once you do reach about 60%, holy crap. I had such a strong reaction to the story! Some of the best twists and turns in YA are contained within the last pages of Gilded Cage. There’s a particular scene at a party toward the end that I cannot stop thinking about — I’m pretty sure I gasped out loud when I read it. When Gilded Cage gets going, it doesn’t let up. Because the world building and the politics have been established in the first half of this book, I really think the sequels will continue on at this breakneck and heartbreaking speed and I cannot wait.
Part of the reason Gilded Cage didn’t initially resonate with me are the characters. They felt like stock characters, plucked out of a catalog labeled ‘Characters You See in YA Novels’. You have Abi, the supposedly wickedly intelligent girl who has her instalove romance with a star-crossed lover. You have Luke, the younger brother who has to grow up fast and learn to be a man. It was great to see parents in this book –they’re usually pretty absent in YA novels — however they didn’t really do much. I still really struggle with Abi, but Luke ended up growing on me and had one of the best character arcs in the book.
So who did I love? The Equals. They were deliciously evil and self-centered and I absolutely devoured their POV chapters. Silyen is my favourite character, and easily one of the best and most compelling male YA characters I’ve read in a long time. I loved every second he spent on the page and can’t wait to find out more about him. I also enjoyed discovering the complexities of Gavar’s character — he’s another one that shows some great growth as the book progresses.
Overall, I really liked Gilded Cage by the end, but I probably wouldn’t have finished it if I hadn’t been warned by a friend about the slow first half. If you’re patient, you’ll be rewarded with a great pay off. I cannot wait to devour the rest of this trilogy.
CW: Lots of implied and confirmed (off-screen) rape, slavery, violence
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