by Lucinda Gray
Published on August 2, 2016 by Henry Holt and Co.
Genres: Historical, Young Adult
After growing up on a farm in Virginia, Walthingham Hall in England seems like another world to sixteen-year-old Katherine Randolph. Her new life, filled with the splendor of upper-class England in the 1820s, is shattered when her brother mysteriously drowns. Katherine is expected to observe the mourning customs and get on with her life, but she can't accept that her brother's death was an accident.
A bitter poacher prowls the estate, and strange visitors threaten the occupants of the house. There's a rumor, too, that a wild animal stalks the woods of Walthingham. Can Katherine retain her sanity long enough to find out the truth? Or will her brother's killer claim her life, too?
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If I’m being completely honest, I don’t really know how I feel about this book. I know, that sounds terrible, but it didn’t really strike me as a great read nor as a terrible one. All in all, this book didn’t really register with me in a way that made me feel anything toward it.
The Gilded Cage follows the introduction of Katherine Randolph into English society. Set against a backdrop of the 1800’s, I was excited to dive into a historical young adult novel as I read so few of them anymore. As a whole, I enjoyed the book while reading it, hooked from start to finish. The story moved fast and was over within a matter of a couple hours. Afterward, I thought about it and realized that, while it was good during the reading process, after left me with a strong apathy for the novel.
In itself, the writing is solid. You’re taken into a well-built world of English propriety from an outsider’s point of view. Gray makes it easy to fall into her plot of mystery and personal growth while Katherine moves from poor farm girl to a wealthy young woman.
At the story’s start, it’s mentioned that Katherine is sixteen, four years younger than her brother George. If it hadn’t been for that mention of age, and a few other brief points at the beginning, I would have considered her much older. We learn so much about her character and the author does her justice as a protagonist. It wasn’t always fun to read but often enough, Katherine had no power in the situation and was forced to rely on others to help her. For me, I’m always looking for books with a strong female lead so this wasn’t a high point but I can’t fault the author for writing a believable character.
The problem is, Katherine was the only multi-dimensional character. Typically there is at least one minor name I’ll remember, one that I also connected with beside the lead. Instead, I not only felt nothing toward Katherine — well-written or not — but also nothing in regards to the rest of the book’s cast. They were neither memorable nor anything more than a single goal or plot point. The doctors played one role. The lawyer played another role. Role. Singular. There wasn’t any real accomplishment on their parts.
Gray also threw in a romantic subplot that probably could’ve been done without. Two love interests present themselves, though not in the typical triangle. When compared with the plot, it does little more than add a bit of filler. I’m not unhappy about it, but neither did I see the need for it.
The main plot, on the other hand, was filled with winding narrative weaving the reader back and forth through the mysterious murders. Katherine doubts what the people surrounding her say over and over again, and it leads her to look into the murders herself and get in quite a bit of trouble. I appreciated the mystery and how it was presented but found it fairly predictable and Katherine’s role weak compared to what it could have been (coming back to the whole no-power deal). All of this happens quickly and my brain hadn’t quite caught on to the mystery by the time I was finished.
There was one point at the end that I questioned the book’s standalone nature, something in the woods so dark and creepy. It gave off a paranormal vibe and almost seemed like a set-up for another story but I saw no indication of a sequel of any kind.
As a whole, I definitely didn’t hate this book but I can’t say I loved it either. I’d put it at a solid average, and if you like historical YA books, check it out from your local library first before buying. Though the cover is quite attractive, I probably wouldn’t buy this book prior to reading it.