Review: Gilded Cage by Vic James
Published by Del Rey Books on February 14th 2017
Source: NetGalley, Publisher
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?
In an atmosphere somewhat reminiscent of Hunger Games and Red Rising (and many other dystopian novels), the world we encounter has a stark division between the classes. There are the elite Skilled, who though fewer in numbers, control Britain. The Skilled, as you may guess, have magical skills that allow them to do extraordinary things, such as heal themselves, repair broken objects and enforce the Silence (which ultimately means, messing with peoples brains to prevent them from speaking about things that the Skilled person does not want to be discussed).
The general masses of normal people usually have little or no contact with Skilled, who are perceived as untouchable, unknowable things. People are not real sure how much of their fabled powers are truth versus exaggeration. I found in this book neither side sees a humanity in the other group. Through one POV we get an inside look at Millmoor, a slavetown. We also get to see that some slaves are able to find ways to rebel, and I found this to be exciting and fun. These sections were hands down my favorite within the book. We also get perspectives from a family living within a Skilled household, serving their slavedays as personal servants. This gives a closer look at the Skilled people, we get to see a more human side to them than just the gossip and legends that float around.
In general, regular people are free to live their lives, blissfully ignorant of what the Skilled do. That is they are all free to live their lives outside of a mandatory 10 year term for what they call “slavedays”. Every citizen must serve 10 years, during which time they are no longer considered to be citizens. They are dehumanized, stripped of any and all civil rights and treated as slaves (as the name implies). It is an interesting premise, it also emphasizes the us versus them mentality.
Unfortunately, I did have a few issues with this book. First, there is the romance. Now, I’m using that word loosely because to me, this was not romance, but rather instant infatuation (or I guess insta-love). It is the type of thing that just strikes me as baffling and irritating rather than romantic. I found it to be completely unnecessary to the plot or my enjoyment and engagement with the books. And because of the mindless aspect it gives the characters involved, it was actually a deterrent, making the characters feel shallow and superficial. Some people like this type of insta-love relationship, but personally I just don’t get it. I need there to be some personalized relationship building in order to really feel the connection and motivation that two characters develop between themselves.
The other issue I had with the book is that it was terribly predictable. There were certain things that felt like they were supposed to be “twists” or “reveals”, but you could see them coming from so far away, it was very anti-climatic. I found this issue to be much more minor than the insta-love because while it may impact the level of suspense and surprise you get from your reading experience, I can’t say it bothered me either. I was still able to enjoy the ride as the story went along the expected path.
Ultimately, I am left feeling like I was probably not the best target audience for this book. I enjoy the concept of slave days, and really enjoyed the sections inside of Millmoor, but over all I didn’t connect quite as well with this as I had hoped to. I think the book is probably quite good for certain audiences, readers who are not as quick to judge a romance as I am.
Review originally posted on The Speculative Herald.