Class warfare gets a fantastical twist in GILDED CAGE!
“Not all are free. Not all are equal. Not all will be saved” reads the tagline for Vic James’ Gilded Cage, the first book in the Dark Gifts series. While it’s not a particularly pleasant thought, this engrossing story certainly doesn’t shy away from themes about class warfare, providing an unique take on an age-old struggle with a relevant, fantastical twist.
In the novel, England is run by an upper echelon known as “Equals,” all of whom have varying hereditary powers known as “skill.” They protect their country from outside harm, but these select families rule rather mercilessly. The commoners are required to complete 10 years of brutal “slavedays” to appease their rulers. They’re usually spent being worked to the bone in smoggy, infested slavetowns, but Abi thinks she’s found a better gig for her family. They’ll be working as servants at Kyneston, an Equal estate owned by the Jardines, one of the founding Equal families. But when the day comes, her brother Luke is forced off to Millmoor, the local slavetown, instead. Tensions unfold as Abi discovers that the Equals have horrific schemes of their own and Luke finds himself in the midst of a dangerous resistance effort.
The premise is great and if you love worldbuilding, you’re really going to fall for this alternative but not overly far-fetched reality. However, the story struggles to streamline its narration. There are 7 or 8 different points-of-view involved. Only 3 or 4 felt necessary. Abi and Luke are our protagonists and their perspective is worth clinging on to, as is that of Silyen Jardine, the youngest boy in the Equal family who is a maybe-wicked-genius mastermind and terribly underutilized. He gave us the creeps and we were obsessed with every second he was featured (which sadly, wasn’t enough.) The story felt like it was about these three characters and while we might have accepted one more point-of-view for occasional context, a lot of the switching around felt superfluous. In terms of plot, it was especially troublesome that Luke’s POV is the only one covering the Millmoor revolts while more than handful of POVs cover the activities over at Kyneston.
Abi and Luke’s stories are intertwined, but have two pretty different paces. Luke’s misadventures are relatively fast-paced and there’s always a threat on his heels, while what’s happening to Abi is more of a careful psychological thriller. Though we do see some Equal skill at work, the major threat is what they could do if truly provoked. Both stories have major intertwining factors that keep you interested, but story does have some points that slightly slower than we would have hoped, giving it an inconsistent feel.
The story isn’t particularly heavy on romance and really, we’re okay with that. Abi has some romantic tension with Jenner, the middle Jardine brother who isn’t a traditional Equal. Their interactions are sweet and enjoyable. We didn’t fully root for them, because Jenner, while sympathetic, is basically the only feasible option Abi has and isn’t willing to give up his comforts to protect commoners. A “good guy” who guiltily allows oppression because it doesn’t affect him is not a good guy. However, there’s potential for him to become more pro-active and if that’s happens, we’re on board. Buuuut we’re still not-so-secretly shipping Abi/Silyen instead.
This book has some glorious twists and does an excellent job setting up the series moving forward. By the time the final chapters rolled around, we were invested. This book came out two days ago and we’ve already ready for the next one in spite of any flaws this one had, so that’s saying something!
RATING: 3.5 OUT OF 5 STARS
Gilded Cage is out now. You can order it via Amazon.
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?