Author: Vic James
Series: Dark Gifts #1
Published: expected February 14 2017
Source: publishers via NetGalley
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?
Gilded Cage, being marketed as a fantasy despite really being more along the lines of a futuristic dystopia, has an interesting premise to draw in YA readers... but the actual story in these pages is somewhat less fascinating than promised and much more familiar than described (hello Red Queen vibes!). The worldbuilding in Vic James's version of England works in a "don't think about it or question anything too much" kind of a way, but the many conceits the story must take in order to faciliate the plot... well, it all ends up feeling very undeveloped or generic by the long anticipated ending.
The required suspension of disbelief to engage with the plot is encompassing, but the main problem with Gilded Cage is that it is just too long, too boring, and too dull. It feels like an exercise in making a 360-odd page novel feel like a 600-page behemoth. The strong points and new ideas that the novel does bring into play (like Jenner's unique family position, Bouda's pure ambition, the Milmoor kids in general) are often overshadowed or just plain lost in the underwhelming and long-running myriad of plots the book goes through. I seem to be the black sheep when it comes to this series opener, but I needed more depth in the world, and less superficiality on the part of the characters.
Because I cared so little about the people and the world they inhabited made so little sense, with little time or care taken to expanding either crucial element, there was not much for me to invest in for large sections of the story. The cast is also mostly white, which I found to be distasteful especially for a book that tackles slavery as both a societal theme and also as a fact of life for its characters. The story does pick up in pacing and plotting somewhat near the end of Gilded Cage, but for me, it was too little too late. The writing itself is serviceable, if nondescript, and I did find a small romance to help keep me reading here in book one, but I won't be continuing the series with Tarnished City.