Published: 14 February 2017
Publisher: Del Ray Books
Category: Fantasy/Young Adult/Science Fiction
Not all are free. Not all are equal. Not all will be saved.
Our world belongs to the Equals — aristocrats with magical gifts — and all commoners must serve them for ten years. But behind the gates of England’s grandest estate lies a power that could break the world.
A girl thirsts for love and knowledge.
Abi is a servant to England’s most powerful family, but her spirit is free. So when she falls for one of the noble-born sons, Abi faces a terrible choice. Uncovering the family’s secrets might win her liberty, but will her heart pay the price?
A boy dreams of revolution.
Abi’s brother, Luke, is enslaved in a brutal factory town. Far from his family and cruelly oppressed, he makes friends whose ideals could cost him everything. Now Luke has discovered there may be a power even greater than magic: revolution.
And an aristocrat will remake the world with his dark gifts.
He is a shadow in the glittering world of the Equals, with mysterious powers no one else understands. But will he liberate—or destroy?
Rating: 4 Stars
Going into this novel, I wasn’t wholly certain what direction it would take. Would there be fantastic displays of Skill, the name for the magical talents of the Equals? Would it be a rescue mission action sort of book?
The story begins with the brief introduction of Leah, the mother of a child who is half Equal, half Common. While she is not made a primary character throughout the story, this child (Libby) is a thread touching almost everyone and will come to mean a great deal, I think. Her story can’t be over, given that nothing is really answered about what she can or cannot do once she’s grown with 100% certainty. Will she be an answer? A downfall? Who knows?
Abi, the girl said to thirst for love and knowledge, has her situation made light of by the summary when it calls her a servsnt. Make no mistake, for as “easy” an assignment as she is able to finagle for herself and some of her family, they are slaves. It might have been easy to forget this at times because Abi, her mother, father, and younger sister Daisy are not in the same circumstance as their son and brother, Luke, who is taken to a slave town. They are the ones in the titular gilded cage.
I like the political aspects of the novel. While there were multiple points of view, they were relatively easy to keep track of. Luckily none were told in first person, which helped a great deal. Everyone had a different motives, or several motives in some cases. Watching them unfold, thinking I was seeing them clearly, was fascinating. There were a couple of twists, one of which I guessed and one I did not see coming.
With regards to the one I guessed, and I won’t spoil it outright here, I will comment on the author’s characterization. She built this person in such a way that I didn’t realize at first that their eventual meaning to the overall plot was even a possibility. Once I got the thought in my head, though, I started to notice little clues and saw what a web was woven for this character to use to get around, enacting their ideas and plots.
As to the twist I did not guess, it came about so quickly at the end I had almost no time to decide whether I could believe it or not. The full meaning and impact may not yet be revealed, as this is only book one in series of indeterminate length, but I think there is potential yet, far reaching maybe, for the individual whom this twist concerns.
The author did an interesting thing with perspective. Prior to the end of Abi’s first chapter, I was prepared to like Silyen, the youngest son of the family to which she is enslaved, because a) he was the youngest brother and showed a kindness towards Leah (a somewhat minor though quite important character) and b) he wants to end the Slavedays.
Then, there’s a scene when his great-aunt Hypatia comes to the estate and brings her pet. I assumed it was a dog because of how it was described: scratching as though it had fleas, long nails scrapping the floor, etc. Plus, when he left the room, he stepped right over it and ignored it.
When Abi and her family see great-aunt Hypatia leaving a garden with her pet, though, it is revealed that her “pet” is a naked human slave. Silyen, for his talk of ending the Slavedays, only wants to do it to further the power of the Equals. He doesn’t see the Commons as anything but chattel and pets, as evidenced by his complete disregard for this man. I don’t know why he was kind to Leah, but it felt selfish and disingenuous afterwards.
I also had to go back and re-read the description of Hypatia’s pet and I realized, it never once mentioned it being a dog or any kind of animal. That’s terrifying, that our introduction to this person was colored by Silyen’s perception of him as less than human.
The last thing I want to mention is the “romance” that occurred between Abi and Jenner, the middle brother of the family to whom she is enslaved. I mentioned earlier that she and her family were the ones in a gilded cage, not at ll like the situation Like finds himself in. This let her forget, I think, her situation as she began to fall in love with Jenner and he with her. This relationship felt, in alternating turns, wrong and lacking.
The fact that the relationship was a possibility at all felt strange and awkward, considering Jenner was in a position of power over her. Abi was set up as a highly intelligent woman who ought to have known better and Jenner, from what little we know of his character and relationship to his family, should have known better. By the end of the book, with their kissing g and embracing, I was left confused as to how they had such a seemingly deep relationship.
Which leads me to the other part of this situation. Setting aside for a moment the wrongness of the relationship, and assuming it did have to happen, it was incredibly lacking because there was never any evidence of feeling developing between Abi and Jenner. There was, perhaps, a moment or two before they were separated following an incident, but no time so long as to indicate affection of the sort the conclusion of the book left the reader with.
Would I buy this book?
As the problems with it were so few, and hopefully may be left behind in subsequent books, I think this book had a good story and left off at an interesting point. I would buy this book and it’s sequel, because I am curious to find out what happens to these people.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.