Author: Vic James
Genre: Young Adult | Alternate Universe | Magic
Publisher: Del Rey Books
Publication Date: February 14, 2017
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 (goodreads)?
A beautiful dark story that imagines a universe where the magical rule all, but it misses all human connection.
Plot: James welcomes us to a world much like our own, except there is a mandatory slave period for all non-magical people. Abi and her family decide to take their 10-year slave period right after the youngest has turned ten. Of course Abi has done her research and made it so that her entire family will remain together and have a rather light sentence. This all changes when Luke, her brother, is sent to a factory town to work 10 years of hard labor. With betrayals and behind the scene politics, it's clear that not everything is what it seems.
Despite how seductive that premise sounds, I felt that Gilded Cage was missing something. I was sucked in by the idea of a mandatory slavery sentence and the hierarchy of the world. However, with all of the different perspectives that this novel cycles through, it's hard to keep track of any action or poignant scenes. This is another one of those books that never has a sense of urgency, even though the topics covered include slavery, rebellion, and political ambition. With such themes I had hoped for a lot more deep dialogue or acts of violence. Yes, there were some pretty violent deaths but nothing graphic - just the mention of someone being shot and blood spraying. There were not emotions attached to these deaths. I can admit that this novel was anything but predictable. It hits the critical scenes that you would expect, but there always an added bonus that kept you guesses about someone's alliances, motivations, or history.
Characters: Gilded Cage follows the lives of Abi and Luke's family along with the mysterious Equals. There are about six or seven perspectives that James rotates through, and it was hard to keep track of everyone. There were a lot of different settings but not enough distinctive voices to understand the characters. Time flies quickly in this novel and there wasn't any development with any of the characters. The most interesting character was the youngest, Daisy, but I didn't find her interesting for a good reason. Daisy has an odd relationship with the oldest Equal. Seriously, this relationship between a 10-year old and a 20-year old was odd and a bit concerning.
There were also a lot of background romances that were never really acknowledged so they felt unnecessary. You would think that the love between a commoner and an aristocrat would be sexy and romantic but it was just....there (and boring).
Worldbuilding: I was sucked into this world immediately despite not knowing what it was. Was it historical fantasy? Was it modern? Gilded Cage somehow worked as a contemporary magical world and the premise was exciting. I could easily imagine the posh lifestyle of the aristocrats and the smokestacks of Millmoor. One thing that I really enjoyed about this book was how the author incorporated real world events into the world of the magical. The American Revolution? Battle between the commoners and Equals. The French Revolution? Same. It was very creative and helped solidify this alternate universe Britain.
Short N Sweet: Gilded Cage has a fantastic premise but lacks a steady stream of action and character connection.