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Gilded Cage (Dark Gifts) Hardcover – February 14, 2017
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“Beautifully characterised and compellingly plotted, Gilded Cage is an impressive debut.”—The Guardian
“Exquisitely wicked . . . a lavishly opulent, yet brutally vivid, alternate England which subtly questions modern beliefs . . . If ever there was a speculative fiction book that captured the zeitgeist of an era this is it.”—SFFWorld
“An alternate modern-day England where enticing drama and social unrest mix with aristocratic scandal and glamorous magic . . . conjuring up the specters of Les Misérables and Downton Abbey . . . an absorbing first installment that presages an intriguing new fantasy series.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Gilded Cage is a heart-pounding combination of dark magic, political revolution, and forbidden romance that had me addicted from the first page!”—Danielle L. Jensen, USA Today bestselling author of The Malediction Trilogy
“Devious and deliciously dark with lashings of magic, mystery, and mayhem, this juggernaut of a book will keep you hanging on by your fingernails until the very last page.”—Taran Matharu, New York Times bestselling author of the Summoner series
“A dark and intriguing vision of an alternate, magic-drenched Britain, Gilded Cage kept me up long into the night.”—Aliette de Bodard, author of The House of Shattered Wings
“Brisk plotting, sympathetic characters, and plenty of intrigue will keep readers on the edges of their seats, eager for the next book in a very promising series.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
About the Author
Vic James is a current-affairs TV director who loves stories in all their forms. Her programs for BBC1 have covered the 2016 U.S. presidential election and Britain’s EU referendum. She has twice judged The Guardian’s Not the Booker Prize. Gilded Cage is her first novel, and an early draft of it won a major online award from Wattpad for most-talked-about fantasy. She has lived in Rome and Tokyo, and currently lives in London.
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Imagine walking into a museum and seeing a gorgeous medieval tapestry. The overall impact is overwhelming. Then you begin to notice the finer details. Strands of shining gold and silver catch your eye. You notice the less brilliant colors the silver and gold intertwined with. You begin to see patterns. You see how individual colors, whether vivid or muted, work together to create the whole work of art. I have just described The Gilded Cage by Vic James. It is a work of art.
I have read over 100 books this year, 2016, and The Gilded Cage is in the top 3. It is a finely crafted novel. It will be released in February 2017 along with an audiobook version. I suggest you pre-order both as soon as available. I read 99% of books in electronic version due to a movement disorder. Gilded Cage and any sequels will be ordered in hardback. These I plan to give to my future grandchildren when they are old enough.
There are two main families in Gilded Cage. The Jardines , the “haves’, and the Hadleys, the “have nots”. It is what they have or not that makes this novel so unique. The Jardines have “Skill”. The Hadleys do not. Skill is the ability to use magic. This is not the learn the spells and potions of Harry Potter magic. This is the intuitive, instinctual, primal magic that flows from the individual’s soul. Not everyone can do the same things with Skill and not everyone has the same strength of Skill.
The universe Gilded Cage is set in has always had Skill as a part of it. The difference in England begins when King Charles the first (and last) is not overthrown by puritans. He is executed by a powerful Skill member of the aristocracy. A new system of government is set up. Parliament with only Skilled members. A few token Unskilled are allowed as observers. Other countries have different systems. In the States United of America, the Civil War was fought. The North has outlawed Skill while the South continues to follow the same system as Britain.
But the worse change is the years of slavery forced on the Unskilled. Each Unskilled man, woman, and child must serve ten consecutive years in slavedays to the Skilled. That slavedays can be in a factory area working six days a week, with barely enough food, and no rights. It can be served on the estate of one of the Skilled. It can be served when one is young or old or anytime in between but it must be served. Whether in slavedays or before or after, the Unskilled have no rights. They can be beaten, raped, killed and all with no consequence to the Skilled who did it or to the Unskilled who did it under the direction of a Skilled. This is the world which the Jardine and Hadleys cross paths.
The characters are very well developed. Abigail Hadley is strong young woman who forgoes medical school to enable her family to serve their slavedays together. She fights for her family. She works the system. She does what she needs to do without relying on anyone, let alone need a man to save her. Luke Hadley, Abigail's brother, is a sixteen year old, who in the way of all teens, somehow never thought his slavedays would really arrive. He must grow up quickly to survive.
The Skilled are not simple characters either. The Jardine family has its heir in Gavar, it’s mystery in youngest son Silyen and it’s total shame in middle son Jenner who is Unskilled. The premier Skilled family contains a son who may be the most powerful Skilled of all time and one of only two Unskilled ever born to Skilled parents. Each Skilled family has the head of the family and it’s heir sitting in Parliament. What each member of each Skill family has is an agenda all their own. One of my favorite parts is when one Skilled character remarks to another, “Your allies aren’t always who you think they are, Miss Matravers. And neither are your enemies.”
The novel has an ironic sense of humor. “Father was planning a debate. Silyen was planning a resurrection. And Gavar was planning a wedding. There was so much wrong with that, Gavar didn’t know where to start.” It is this wonderful combination of characters and themes surrounded by damn good writing that makes The Gilded Cage a must read. It is subtitled Dark Gifts #1 which means there is more to come. I cannot wait.
I received an advance review copy of The Gilded Cage from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. My sincere thanks to Netgalley and Vic James for one of the best reads I have had all year.
This is my attempt at making this review as spoiler free as possible, please bear with me during this brave endeavor.
Okay… *deep breath* So, when I read the synopsis, my expectation of the book was completely skewed. Because the romance was the plot mentioned first and then the revolutionary and then the ambiguous wild-card character, I automatically assumed that this would be the hierarchy for the amount of time spent on each character in relation to the plot and, subsequently, that it would be a clear indication of each of their significance. Add on the fact that the prologue tainted my perception from the beginning, and bam - I went through the first portion of the book expecting things that weren’t going to happen.
Well, color me pink with pleasure! Shame on me for going into a story with presumptions. There’s romance, but it’s not the main artery in this network of plots - so it’s a bonus, not the focus. There’s revolution, but it’s so nuanced and ubiquitous that your blood thrums along with the growing dissention. And then, of course, there’s Mr. I-could-be-destruction-or-salvation-but-who-knows that throws ALL OF YOUR THOUGHTS INTO DISARRAY. *heavy breathing*
I am so freaking happy with this book. I am ecstatic that I got to read it before it was released because I know I want a physical copy in my personal library so I can re-read and annotate it. Every few chapters brought to light new information that slightly altered the reader’s scope. The concepts introduced took on a broader, and more heady, tone as I digested the author’s words. Each storyline was a slow, slow burn that got me to feel for the characters and their circumstance before engulfing everything in flames. While I didn’t particularly like a few of the characters, I understood each of them and I fully appreciate the author’s dedication to character growth and three-dimensionality. It made for a compelling and wretched story of privilege, inequality and strife.
Most of my favorite books took me less than a day to finish, but this one took me a little over a month. Why? This actually correlates with some of the points I made above. The author packed so much information into the each part of the story. The setting, the people, the world… It was… a bit too much at times, for me. The story is set in England (a place I’m not familiar with) with modern details (I was constantly trying to pinpoint an exact time) and there wasn’t any clear divide on who was ‘good’ or ‘evil’ (which drove me absolutely crazy). Throw in the common excuses of work and daily chores, and you have a recipe for delayed literary completion.
Is the book perfect? No. Does that matter? No. BECAUSE IT’S NEW, REFRESHING, UNRUSHED, AND DIVINE. I absolutely love social hierarchy drama. I can’t wait to see where this is all going. Will it be a happily ever after? Will it be just death and destruction? Can a world change at the hands of the oppressed or must it be destroyed before it can be reborn again? I don’t know and I don’t think any of the characters know either but I will follow them every freaking step of the way.
Also, side note, I love Silyen. Please give me more Silyen, forever and ever. Vic James, if you’re reading this, please know - he is the most interesting megalomaniac I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading and no matter where his life takes me, I don’t believe I will be disappointed with its direction.