Title: The Gilded Ones
Author: Namina Forna
Published: 8 October 2020
Trigger Warnings: blood, violence, torture, misogyny, rape; there is talk of purity in the book that is reference to religious purity and purity culture in America for those of you who have been harmed by the church please take head.
Okay, if there was ever a novel that I would love to read again with no memory of it, this one would probably be at the top of my list. This book didn’t just give me all the feels but made me think of race, sexuality, and purity all on different levels.
In the world of Otera, Deka lives in fear and anticipation of the blood ceremony that will determine whether she will become a member of her village. She’s already different from everyone else because of her unnatural intuition, as well as the color of her skin, Deka prays for red blood, so she can finally belong. Yet, the day of the ceremony reveals gold blood, the blood of impurity. Then a mysterious woman comes to Deka with a choice: stay in the village and submit to her fate, or she can leave to fight for the emperor in an army of girls just like her. Alaki-near immortals with rare gifts, who are the only ones who can stop the empire’s greatest threat. But as Deka learns to train, she discovers that the capital city holds many surprises and no one is quite what they seem.
One of the greatest parts of this novel was the fact that the main character was a Black girl, along with the fact that she is the strongest of the alaki. It’s so great to see/read Black main characters, and definitely important to read them. The story itself was so captivating as well, as it reflects on America’s own values.
I mention in the trigger warnings that there are references to purity culture throughout the novel. The religion in Otera, the Infinite Wisdom, declares that women are nothing more than a man’s helpmate. The blood ceremony that Deka dreads is actually the Ritual of Purity Ceremony that happens when girls turn 16. This hit a lot of points with me, as I grew up in the South and definitely have been harmed by purity culture. I absolutely love how Forna writes the book where Deka does truly believe in the Infinite Wisdom and her place in society. Then throughout the novel she starts seeing the double standards and horrible treatment of women by men in Otera. Her opinions change and she fights for herself and all girls.
Another aspect of culture brought in is capitalism and commodification. When a girl is found impure, her blood runs gold, she is taken in by the priests of her village (usually, sometimes parents will protect their child, which you know the least they can do) and held in a dungeon. They bleed the gold from her body to sell for the economics of the village. I definitely see an article or conference paper in here using Marxist theory (no, my English graduate brain never turns off). I’m excited to see where Forna goes with the second novel and cannot wait to read it!!
Happy Reading Darlings!