The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna (432 pages)
In The Gilded Ones, Separated by a Blood Ceremony, Girls Are Forced Into Exile
As her sixteenth birthday approaches, Deka nervously anticipates the blood ceremony that will determine her future. If her blood is red, she can live a normal life in her village. But if her blood runs gold, she must live a life of exile, a fate some might consider worse than death. Deka has feared for some time that her blood might be gold given her keen sense of intuition. And, as the ceremony arrives, she’s proven right.
With the terrifying prospect of exile in front of her, Deka is suddenly given another choice by a mysterious woman: she can join an army of powerful girls like herself to fight for the emperor. This army is composed of alaki, warriors with rare gifts that are essentially immortal. Though Deka is hesitant, she can feel that this is her chance for belonging and glory even if it means risking her life.
A Fierce, Unwavering Story of Violence and Subversion
This story definitely is not for the faint of heart. Deka’s journey from a self-conscious girl looking for belonging to a fierce warrior does not shy away from violence. Forna stated in several interviews that this novel is very loosely based on her experience growing up in Sierra Leone during a time of civil war and readers can see the influence of that strife. Though the violence is sobering, the novel’s focus on Deka’s relationships with her fellow warriors is refreshing. Unlike many other YA novels, this one is not bothered by the “mean girl” or “frenemies” tropes. The women depicted here are strong and supportive, something young readers always need more of.
The Bottom Line: 4/5 Brookie Stars
Forna’s debut novel, The Gilded Ones is rich and robust, a fantasy novel for older readers. The world building is complex yet accessible and readers will have a hard time pulling themselves out of this world. While the setting is fantastical, readers can feel the reality that Forna draws on from her own experience to create this space which creates a sense of authenticity. Deka is a protagonist that is both relatable and worthy of our admiration, and her companions create a compelling supporting cast.
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Rachel Gomes is a 30-something high school English teacher who lives with her high school sweetheart-turned-husband and their son. Rachel is a voracious reader who loves to learn and has her doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction. She’s happiest listening to podcasts and talking to friends about the latest news in nerd culture.
Favourite book: Don’t make me choose between A Song of Ice and Fire and Harry Potter
Favourite brunch spot: The Farmer’s Table