by Vic James
Series: Dark Gifts #1
Published on February 14, 2017 by Del Rey
Genres: Dystopian, Fantasy, Young Adult
In modern-day Britain, magic users control everything: wealth, politics, power—and you. If you’re not one of the ultimate one-percenters—the magical elite—you owe them ten years of service. Do those years when you’re old, and you’ll never get through them. Do them young, and you’ll never get over them.
This is the darkly decadent world of Gilded Cage. In its glittering milieu move the all-powerful Jardines and the everyday Hadleys. The families have only one thing in common: Each has three children. But their destinies entwine when one family enters the service of the other. They will all discover whether any magic is more powerful than the human spirit.
Have a quick ten years. . . .
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I contemplated whether I really wanted to read Gilded Cage or not. Dystopian YAs and me don’t generally mix well but despite some of the world elements, this book read as a mix of dystopia and fantasy.
And it worked.
The elite upper class possess magic and lord it over all those beneath them, including in the form of “slave days” where regular citizens have to give up 10 years of their lives. Not exactly the kind of world you’d want to live in, right?
I enjoyed the darkness in this book, touching on child labor and the world beneath the glitter. On the surface, we have a multitude of characters and perspectives to view this world through, anywhere from the elite nobles to those simply trying to survive, to those wishing to change the world. The intertwining elements really gave this book a richness in the world that I appreciated, at least at first glance. Diving in deeper, the choices for this world never quite made sense to me, the system of spending 10 years just gone from regular society especially as I can’t imagine being able to move out of that so easily without resources, funds, etc. And points within the story also struck a wrong chord where characters (namely the Equals, specifically in the Jardine family centered in the story) do things. . . and we never know why. A lot of this book, in terms of the background information, came off as plot devices rather than organic to the story being told.
That being said, I found this story unique in its take on slavery and magic. For that, it stood out, but it wasn’t what I expected from the synopsis given. The multiple points of view made it hard to really connect with a character because as soon as something would happen to one, it shifted and I ended up having to wait too long between their scenes to care. I’d have rather had a more in-depth look at one, maybe two characters. I think Gilded Cage relied too heavily on being able to bounce around and reveal snippets of the mysteries unfolding; without that, I don’t expect this book would have held its own.
And yet. . . and yet I did enjoy the book on some levels, enough to read the sequel when it comes out so there’s that at the very least. While I didn’t get quite what I expected and the dystopian elements didn’t work for me, there was enough of that “something else” that hooked me for book 2. I expect more politics and intrigue in the future, and I’m curious how James will handle that. It worked to a degree this time around, so here’s hoping book 2 doesn’t fall to sequel syndrome. Gilded Cage was good, better than I expected for the dystopian elements, and I’m interested to see how this series pans out!