book review, sci-fi

Review: The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna

The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna is an original fantasy novel with rich world building and the classic hero’s journey. Deka of Irfut is set to undergo her coming of age “ritual of purity” to tell if she bleeds pure (red blood) or if she has gold blood–the blood of women allegedly descended from demons.

Deka is quickly and unceremoniously ripped from her quiet life of religious conformity when she endures a traumatic and life altering event that sets her on a journey to become an alaki, or one of the Emperor’s elite solider unit tasked with killing all deathshrieks (demon-like creatures who attack the empire of Otera.)

During her harsh and brutal training, Deka forms deep bonds with women who have also bled “impure.” Not only does Deka become a deadly warrior, but she also discovers dark supernatural abilities within herself: the ability to use “the voice” (think Dune) to control deathshrieks. Not only that, she can sense when the creatures are near, as well as enter a trance-like combat state that gives her exceptional focus. Perhaps the most unsettling thing about being an alaki is being nearly immortal. Deka discovers, through brutal means, how many gruesome and disturbing ways she can “die” without dying (they are called near deaths for alaki, while all alaki can also have a true death.) Instead, alaki enter a healing “gilded sleep” that can last for weeks to repair their body. But Deka is unlike other alaki in that virtually every brutal attempt (dismembering, fire…) will not kill her.

For YA, The Gilded Ones is very dark and filled with violence (which doesn’t bother me so long as it relates to the story and character development, which it very much did.) Namina Forna’s world of Otera is fully realized with varying cultures, legends, belief systems, and creatures. While it does follow the classic hero’s journey of other “chosen one” YA novels (Harry Potter, Hunger Games, etc.), the story itself is very original, creative, and sets itself apart by going to those dark places. What’s more, The Gilded Ones very much weaves within its story the dynamics of racism and sexism within the context of the empire and its religious framework.

My only criticisms are that side characters (perhaps only with the exception of Britta) were many, which meant they were two dimensional at best. I sometimes got people confused because not much information had previously given about them save superficial details of hair/eye/skin color.