I received an ARC of Gilded Cage from NetGalley and I would like to thank Vic James and Del Rey Books.
Gilded Cage is set in a dystopian, totalitarian alternative United Kingdom where certain individuals are born with the power of Skill. This created world is a mix of Dickensian Britain (with slave towns) and modern Britain (with computer consoles and C-pop music). The Equals are the ruling aristocrat elite here as they are born with the magic of Skill, they are the celebrities and they run the nation. Everyone lacking Skill is controlled and for ten years of their lives have to work their ‘Slave Days’. Essentially, ten years of their lives where they work for the state in terrible conditions, for no money and during these times they have no rights and aren’t even seen as real people any longer. James has created a large amount of back history too for the Dark Gift’s trilogy that is hauntingly similar to our own. One example being the members amongst the long history of the revered Equals composed family trees. Another being characters discussing revolutions (hauntingly alike the French and American) throughout the world and also talking about countries who are living now after overthrowing their Equal ruling elite.
We view this world whilst following the point of view perspectives of members of two families on different sides of the divide. A normal, average family containing three children and an aristocratic Equal family, also with three children, who are anything but average.
This action happens mainly in two places. The home of the Equal family at Kyneston which is surrounded by an invisible magic gate/wall that encompasses the family grounds and at the slave town called Millmoor where people work six days a week in awful conditions for no money. The destinies of members of the two families intertwine and the story progresses.
The main characters all seem very developed and intriguing. My favourites to read about were Equal “Young Master” Silyen who seems to be brimming with magical prowess, the normal bloke Luke who finds out a lot about himself during these pages and the kind-hearted Dr. Jackson. The majority of the Equals seem to have peculiar motives and are manipulative. The people without the power of the skill are just trying to live quietly and act inconspicuous. Kyneston is as elegant a mansion and estate as you are likely to read about in fiction whilst Millmoor is the opposite. That isn’t to say that what happens in Kyneston is all rosy. Millmoor is grotesque and horrendous for individuals spending their slave days there. There is an underground faction there below the sights of the authorities, however; who reminded me a bit of The Reckoners in Sanderson’s Steelheart.
I don’t wish to say too much about the story, how characters feel about, and interact with others, or discuss the magic as they are most fascinating aspects of this engrossing and highly original debut outing from James. The end I found phenomenal and it was extremely upsetting. That being said, it sets up Tarnished City (Dark Gifts #2) expertly promising to highlight more places in this compelling alternative Britain. Although it is marketed as YA and can be enjoyed by a younger audience, I can say that if that puts you off picking this up then you are missing out on an extraordinarily good story by a gifted new author.