BookBrowse Reviews The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna

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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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  • First Published:
    Feb 2021, 432 pages

    Paperback:
    Jan 2022, 432 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Michelle Anya Anjirbag
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A stunning deconstruction of patriarchy in an engaging young adult fantasyscape in which a teenage girl realizes her true power and potential.

After years of feeling like an outcast, Deka wants nothing more than to pass through the Ritual of Purity so that she can become a recognized member of her village in the kingdom of Otera. In Otera, adolescent girls endure a test in which they are cut; if they bleed red, they are recognized as pure humans and assume their place in society. But if they do not, they are labeled alaki, monsters who are virtually immortal and have "impure" gold blood. The alaki are subject to execution — the Emperor's death mandate says: "Never allow an alaki to live, nor anyone who aids her." On the day of her ritual, her village comes under attack and Deka is revealed to be one of the alaki. Abandoned by her family, she is given the choice to stay in her village and be tortured until she dies, or to join an army of women like her, to become the Emperor's greatest weapon in the war Otera is fighting against creatures known as Deathshrieks who are now massing at their breeding grounds as they do every hundred years. The Emperor hopes that this is the time for Otera to end the Deathshrieks for good. Her choice will not only affect Deka's own life, but that of everyone in Otera, rewriting the history they thought they knew.

Otera is a strict, patriarchal society, so the transition to becoming a warrior is difficult for Deka. But at the Warthu Bera, the alaki training grounds where they learn to fight Deathshrieks, she meets women who have had similar experiences, and they build a community and find strength in an identity their world would rather shame them for. In the process, they challenge the structures that have confined them for so long. The alaki might have been cast out as impure, but Deka and the friends she makes in her training decide that they will become more: more than the weak, meek, supposedly pure women they once aspired to be, and more than the demons the world believes them to be. In the battles they fight on their way to becoming warriors, they find who they really are and the meaning of their golden blood, and with that knowledge, they change their world.

Forna's debut novel and first book in the Deathless series is a challenge to patriarchal norms across societies and cultures. As her characters find their own power and agency, and learn to love who they are in spite of what others have said about their worth, young readers will be inspired to recognize their own self-worth. The divine conflicts of Otera represent the very real conflicts feminism has fought, and continues to fight, against patriarchal systems. Forna imagines a world where women not only free themselves as individuals, but do so in a way that challenges the institutionalized patriarchy around them, recognizing that the harms of the system go beyond the personal pain they have all suffered. The Gilded Ones is a strong opening to what promises to be a compelling series that is taking on as its focus an almost timeless subject: violence enacted against women to keep them in line and to punish those who dare to break boundaries and norms.

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in May 2021, and has been updated for the January 2022 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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