Review of The Gilded Ones, by Namina Forna

The Gilded Ones

by Namina Forna
read by Shayna Small

Listening Library, 2021. 12 hours, 46 minutes.
Review written January 24, 2022, from a library eaudiobook
2022 Cybils Young Adult Speculative Fiction Finalist

The Gilded Ones is an epic tale set in a fantastical kingdom inhabited by people and strange sentient creatures – and demons who appear as human girls.

At sixteen, Deka is ready to undergo the purification ceremony, but the ceremony is interrupted by an attack from the fearsome Death Shrieks. In the chaos, Deka learns she has surprising powers – but also that she is a demon. A cut reveals that her blood is gold.

There’s a death mandate, so the village elders try to kill Deka. But she’s a demon and stubbornly comes back to life, through decapitation, dismemberment, burning. After a long ordeal, a woman comes to the village with the seal of the emperor and takes Deka away. Now the girls like her are being trained to become a powerful fighting force to wipe out the Death Shrieks, and Deka’s special powers will be helpful.

It’s a fun tale, full of Black Girl Power. (Although it’s a different world, Deka has the dark skin of Southerners.) There’s friendship, teamwork, romance, destroying the patriarchy, and even a cute and loyal pet.

Unfortunately, I had a lot of trouble with suspension of disbelief for this one and details of the fantasy world bothered me. How could blood serve the function of blood bringing oxygen to the body, and yet be gold, turning into a supple metal after it’s shed? How could someone actually come back to life after dismemberment? Sure, they explain body fibers reaching out to find one another, but seems like if someone really wanted to kill them, they could make barriers that couldn’t be overcome? How can a shapeshifter gain and lose matter and change from the size of a small bird to the size of a giant? How could creatures expend lots of energy but not need to eat? And then I had problems with the plot – there were schemes on both the good side and the bad side that lasted decades, even centuries, and I was murky about the motivation.

Okay, but this book is finding readers and I already knew that I’m often way too picky about world-building details. If you want an epic series about a formerly oppressed sisterhood powerfully battling to win freedom for everyone, and an underestimated girl discovering she has power to save the world – this book is only the beginning.

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