Set in a fictionalised West Africa, sixteen-year-old Deka lives in an intensely patriarchal empire (think Afghanistan under the Taliban) where women’s choices are utterly proscribed by religion and society. She’s about to undergo the ritual of purity, which is as sinister as it sounds, when her village is attacked by monsters whose terrifying shriek can kill anyone who hears it. But when Deka cries out desperately for them to go away, the monsters seem to listen to her.
It’s a great set-up, and the action really pulls you forward. I like how The Gilded Ones doesn’t shy away from violence (which is pretty extreme), and I really like how well it draws lines between violence against women and other kinds of misogyny, and reveals how the patriarchy is embedded in every part of Deka’s life. Fantasy novels quite often brush up against feminist themes, but I’ve never read one that really unpicks the patriarchy quite so effectively.
Unfortunately for me some of the character development seemed a bit contrived and unconvincing, and the world-building seemed to have some flaws, but my advice is to put those quibbles aside and read it like a blockbuster action movie, but with much more progressive gender politics. Get some popcorn and get ready to be splattered in (gold) blood.
(review by Tim)