Review: The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna

The Gilded Ones is a hard book to read, and a beautiful one. Readers looking for a fantasy historical West African story to sink their teeth into will be absolutely thrilled.

The Gilded Ones CoverSixteen-year-old Deka lives in fear and anticipation of the blood ceremony that will determine whether she will become a member of her village. Already different from everyone else because of her unnatural intuition, Deka prays for red blood so she can finally feel like she belongs.

But on the day of the ceremony, her blood runs gold, the color of impurity–and Deka knows she will face a consequence worse than death.

Then a mysterious woman comes to her with a choice: stay in the village and submit to her fate, or leave to fight for the emperor in an army of girls just like her. They are called alaki–near-immortals with rare gifts. And they are the only ones who can stop the empire’s greatest threat.

Knowing the dangers that lie ahead yet yearning for acceptance, Deka decides to leave the only life she’s ever known. But as she journeys to the capital to train for the biggest battle of her life, she will discover that the great walled city holds many surprises. Nothing and no one are quite what they seem to be–not even Deka herself. (Goodreads) Goodreads

I received an eARC of The Gilded Ones from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Gilded Ones needs trigger warnings for toxic masculinity, an extremely patriarchal society, mentions of and discussion of rape, enslavement of characters based on color of their blood, death of main character, mind control, xenophobia, misogyny, brutal abuse of main characters and side characters, and discussion of genocide. Take these notes seriously when you read, please.

This is a book that was clearly written with love and a desire to make the world better in so many ways. It deals with a deeply patriarchal society and critiques it from within in a way that I don’t think I’ve ever seen.

The author’s note talks about her experiences living in Sierra Leone and the United States and the way that patriarchy is similar and different in both societies. Forna does not pull her punches at any point in this book, and it is all the better for it.

“To every person reading this book: Know that you are the hero of your own story. You can make things happen, and you can change the world. Choose to change the world for good.” – Author Note

The magic system is fascinating, and it has a diverse cast of characters that will keep you on the edge of your seat. I loved the female friendships that grew throughout the story, and the sapphic romance that developed between some side characters. Y’all know I’m here for that always.

The only thing I didn’t love about The Gilded Ones was, ironically, the main romantic subplot. It really didn’t work for me. There wasn’t really enough time spent on it for the ending to be believable for me. That being said, I look forward to seeing how Forna fleshes it out with the events of the second book and deciding if I’m convinced.

I recommend this book, as long as you are prepared to deal with the content warnings. You can pick it up from Bookshop, Amazon, or The Book Depository through my affiliate links.


Title: The Gilded Ones

Series: Deathless #1

Author: Namina Forna

Publisher: Delacorte

Length: 432 Pages

Release Date: February 9, 2021

Rating: Recommended

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Representation: Mixed race Black main character, Asian-coded minor characters, queer wlw secondary character

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