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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In most villages, women can't leave their homes without a man to escort them. Irfut, however, is small, and men are in scarce supply. Most of the eligible ones have joined the army, as Father did when he was younger. A few have even survived the training to become jatu, the emperor's elite guard. I spot a contingent of them lingering at the edges of the square, watchful in their gleaming red armor.

There are at least twelve today, far more than the usual two or three the emperor sends for the winter Ritual. Perhaps it's true what people have been whispering: that more deathshrieks have been breaking through the border this year.

The monsters have been laying siege to Otera's southern border for centuries, but in the past few years, they've gotten much more aggressive. They usually attack near Ritual day, destroying villages and trying to steal away impure girls. Rumor is, impurity makes girls much more delicious... .

Thankfully, Irfut is in one of the most remote areas of the North, surrounded by snow-capped mountains and impenetrable forests. Deathshrieks will never find their way here.

Elfriede doesn't notice my introspection; she's too busy grinning at the jatu. "Aren't they just so handsome in their reds? I heard they're new recruits, doing a tour of the provinces. How wonderful of the emperor to send them here for the Ritual!"

"I suppose ... ," I murmur.

Elfriede's stomach grumbles. "Hurry, Deka," she urges, dragging me along. "The line at the bakery will be unmanageable soon.

She pulls me so strongly, I stumble, smacking into a large, solid form. "My apologies," I say with a gasp, glancing up.

One of the visiting men is staring down at me, a thin, wolfish smirk on his lips. "What's this, another sweet morsel?" He grins, stepping closer.

I hurriedly step back. How could I be so stupid? Men from outside villages aren't used to seeing unaccompanied women and can make awful assumptions. "I'm sorry, I must go," I whisper, but he grabs me before I can retreat, his fingers greedily reaching for the button fastening the top of my cloak.

"Don't be that way, little morsel. Be a nice girl, take off the cloak so we can see what we've come--" Large hands wrench him away before he can finish his words.

When I turn, Ionas, the oldest son of Elder Olam, the village head, is glaring down at the man, no trace of his usual easy smile on his face. "If you want a brothel, there's one down the road, in your town," he warns, blue eyes flashing. "Perhaps you should return there.

The difference in their size is enough to make the man hesitate. Though Ionas is one of the handsomest boys in the village--all blond hair and dimples--he's also one of the largest, massive as a bull and just as intimidating.

The man spits at the ground, annoyed. "Don't be so pissy, boy. I was only having a bit of fun. That one isn't even a Northerner, for Oyomo's sake."

Every muscle in my body strings taut at this unwelcome reminder. No matter how quiet I am, how inoffensive I remain, my brown skin will always mark me as a Southerner, a member of the hated tribes that long ago conquered the North and forced it to join the One Kingdom, now known as Otera. Only the Ritual of Purity can ensure my place.

Please let me be pure, please let me be pure. I send a quick prayer to Oyomo.

I pull my cloak tighter, wishing I could disappear into the ground, but Ionas steps even closer to the man, a belligerent look in his eyes. "Deka was born and raised here, same as the rest of us," he growls. "You'll not touch her again."

I gape at Ionas, shocked by this unexpected defense. The man huffs. "Like I said, I was only having a bit of fun." He turns to his friends. "C'mon, then, let's go get a drink."

The group retreats, grumbling under their breath.

Once they're gone, Ionas turns to me and Elfriede. "You all right?" he asks, a worried expression on his face.

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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