Title: Gilded Cage (Dark Gifts, #1)
Author: Vic James
Publisher: Del Rey Books, 2017 (Feb 14)
Genre: YA Dystopian, YA Fantasy
**I received a copy of this book freee from Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review**
I included both covers bc I have both copies…I received one free on Netgalley, which is the one I read, and I bought a U.K. copy, simply bc I love that gorgeous cover. Yes. We have all established that I’m a cover junkie, so when I tell you I bought the U.K. version (it was on sale, mind you), you can understand that it’s a problem, and I know I have it. First step is admitting you have a problem, right? (There’s also a gorgeous blue cover with a white Cage but I have no idea where that one comes from but it is STUNNING, TOO!)
Anyway…I had been looking forward to this book for gosh knows how long…yes, I said gosh. I kept putting off reading it, trying to wait for all the hype to die down…I needed a clear, honest read for this book. And I got one. So I’m happy.
Aaaaannnd…it wasn’t quite what I was expecting. I’ll elaborate later.
First off, the blurb (in my own words as usual):
We start simply enough, from Luke’s POV…there’s a little Prelude chapter before that sets the stage, but that’s not important right now. What IS important is that we are immediately immersed into Luke’s POV, a young teen studying for his final tests during his sister’s extravagant birthday party. When a mysterious man comes to buy Luke’s dad’s prized rebuilt car, Luke puts two and two together: the huge party for his sister, the car being sold, his parents avoiding him while he’s studying…
They are planning to do their slave days.
In our dystopian world, there are commoners, like Luke’s family, and there are Equals. Equals (despite the odd name) are far from equal: they are people born with Skill. These skills can vary but essentially make them very powerful. In England, where our story is set, commoners must serve 10 YEARS of “slave days.” And Luke’s family has decided to start them now.
But it’s not just the parents who are starting: the whole family will be starting their days together.
Luke’s dreams of learning to drive are quashed: his sister Abi’s applications to medical school on hold, his sister Daisy, at only 10 year old: what will become of her? Abi assures Luke it will be fine; she has applied for the whole family to do their ten years together at the Kyneston Estate, home to one of the most powerful Equal families.*
*(I’m still not getting the Equal name at this point as they are obviously NOT EQUAL but that’s my own two cents)
When the van comes to take the family to the estate, they find out Luke has been left off the list: he is bound for the only other place one does their slave days….Millnoor. Families aren’t “usually” separated, but once you become a slave, you are no longer a person and have bo rights. Abi swears she’ll get Luke back, but Luke is headed to a place where jail would be considered a vacation.
The POV shifts often in this book, and we see the rest of the family arrive at the Kyneston estate. Magical doors will keep them in. The three sons all are different: Gavar Jardine is brooding with an illegitimate heir from a rendezvous with a slave girl, Silyen Jardine is creepy but the most talented with Skill, and Jenner Jardine was born Skill-less, a quality which makes him a pariah in the esteemed family.
While we jump from Luke and the harsh and brutal treatment of Millnoor, we also get POVs from Gavar, Silyen, and Abi, as well as Bouda, Gavar’s betrothed. We see what it’s like to be a slave and what it’s like to be Skilled. We see Luke’s beatings and desire to rebel contrasted to Abi’s desire to please Jenner and fit in. While she dreams of a possible love with the Equal boy, Luke struggles to make it through on garbage food and little sleep.
When an odd proposal appears in the Equal parliament to put an end to the slave days, all hell breaks loose. Millnoor residents catch wind and demonstrate while Equals laugh it off and remember the days before slave days were mandatory. They are adamant it won’t happen again…and what chance really do slaves have against their Skilled betters?
In James’s novel, we see what it’s like to think you’re free but still be caged…be caged and struggle to break free…
Yes and no. Fortunately, the only swear word in the entire novel is bitch…they call the headmaster of Millnoor the Overbitch. So that’s not too bad. And there are a ton of discussion subjects: the Equals vs the “slaves,” the Equals and their real “freedom,” Silyen’s calculating but giving attitude, Jenner’s freedom from Skill but his complete dependence on his family. There are so many dynamics here and the POV shifts allow a taste from everyone’s perspective: you can identify with the “bad” guys and realize some people may not really be bad but be more complex than that.
I’m thinking this would be a bit too advanced for a high school classroom but would benefit being used in s college curriculum and read through a lens of Critical Theory. Lexile doesn’t even score it so I would think to err on the side of caution and just use it in Higher Education, especially literature classes because of the dystopian aspect. A bourgeoisie vs proletariat conversation if learning about Marxist criticism would be a good balance.
So for my area of expertise, high school English, I give Gilded Cage:
This book has some slow parts. The dynamics as well are subtle. I think you’ll find that younger students could get bored. There is nothing really too risqué besides Gravar’s lusty appetites (and those are glossed over and alluded to), but to be on the safe side (that’s my motto) I would suggest 15 and up. High school students could read this because it IS YA, but I think the older, the better, and more advanced readers would be able to handle the pacing and the POV shifts (which can even drive someone like me a little crazy).
I had some problems with this book. First, we have a group of people dubbed “Equals” who are in no way equal to the common people. So who are they equal to? Wouldn’t it make more sense to call them “Superiors?” That confused me.
Then we have the POV shifts: we see Abi encounter something horrendous, and then before we can know what happens, we go through two or three other people, and by the time we get back to Abi, we’ve forgotten where we left off. The “love” she develops for Jenner doesn’t develop naturally and seems rushed bc we don’t get to see enough of Abi’s POV to feel the connection. The only real connection we get is for Luke…and it’s just not enough.
Finally, when you get through all the build-up and the book starts to go somewhere….BAM! It’s over and you are left with a major cliffhanger, begging for more. That always drives me crazy. Most of the book was talking and plotting and no action.
So…if you are looking to read Gilded Cage, you need patience and probably to wait for the sequel, Tarnished City. I would definitely wait on this book looking back now.
So I give Glided Cage ★★★☆☆. Or in my Rating Scale:
Whatcha readin? Anything good and NOT meh? 😂
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