Excerpt from The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Gilded Ones

Deathless #1

by Namina Forna

The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna X
The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna
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  • Published:
    Feb 2021, 432 pages

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Michelle Anya Anjirbag
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I've been in Irfut my entire life, born and raised, and I'm still treated like a stranger--still stared and pointed at, still excluded. I wouldn't even be allowed in the temple if some of Father's relatives had their way. My face may be the spitting image of his, but that's not enough. I need to be proven for the village to accept me, for Father's family to accept us. Once my blood runs pure, I'll finally belong.

Father walks over, smiles reassuringly at me. "Do you know what being pure means, Deka?" he asks.

I reply with a passage from the Infinite Wisdoms. " 'Blessed are the meek and subservient, the humble and true daughters of man, for they are unsullied in the face of the Infinite Father.' "

Every girl knows it by heart. We recite it whenever we enter a temple--a constant reminder that women were created to be helpmeets to men, subservient to their desires and commands.

"Are you humble and all the other things, Deka?" Father asks.

I nod. "I think so," I say.

Uncertainty flickers in his eyes, but he smiles and kisses my forehead. "Then all will be well."

He returns to his hay. I take my seat before Norla, that worry still niggling at me. After all, there are other ways I resemble Mother that Father does not know about--ways that would make the villagers despise me even more if they ever found out.

I have to make sure I keep them secret. The villagers must never find out.

Never.


It's still early morning when I reach the village square. There's a slight chill in the air, and the roofs of nearby houses are crusted with icicles. Even then, the sun is unseasonably bright, its rays glinting off the high, arching columns of the Temple of Oyomo. Those columns are meant to be a prayer, a meditation on the progress of Oyomo's sun across the sky every day. High priests use them to choose which two days of the year to conduct the spring and winter Rituals. The very sight of them sends another surge of anxiety through me.

"Deka! Deka!" A familiar gawkish figure waves excitedly at me from across the road.

Elfriede hurries over, her cloak pulled so tightly around her, all I can see are her bright green eyes. She and I both always try to cover our faces when we come into the village square--me because of my coloring and Elfriede because of the dull red birthmark covering the left side of her face. Girls are allowed to remain revealed until they go through the Ritual, but there's no point attracting attention, especially on a day like this.

This morning, Irfut's tiny cobblestone square is thronged with hundreds of visitors, more arriving by the cartful every minute. They're from all across Otera: haughty Southerners with dark brown skin and tightly curled hair; easygoing Westerners, long black hair in topknots, tattoos all over golden skin; brash Northerners, pink-skinned, blond hair gleaming in the cold; and quiet Easterners in every shade from deep brown to eggshell, silky straight black hair flowing in glistening rivers down their backs.

Even though Irfut is remote, it's known for its pretty girls, and men come from far distances to look at the eligible ones before they take the mask. Lots of girls will find husbands today--if they haven't already.

"Isn't it exciting, Deka?" Elfriede giggles.

She gestures at the square, which is now festively decorated for the occasion. The doors of all the houses with eligible girls have been painted gleaming red, banners and flags fly cheerfully from windows, and brightly colored lanterns adorn every entrance. There are even masked stilt dancers and fire breathers, and they thread through the crowd, competing against the merchants selling bags of roasted nuts, smoked chicken legs, and candied apples.

Excitement courses through me at the sight. "It is," I reply with a grin, but Elfriede is already dragging me along.

"Hurry, hurry!" she urges, barreling past the crowds of visitors, many of whom stop to scowl disapprovingly at our lack of male guardians.

Excerpted from The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna. Copyright © 2021 by Namina Forna. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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