Gilded Cage (Dark Gifts #1)
by Vic James.
In this alternate England, magically-gifted aristocrats (Equals) rule the land, while ungifted commoners must serve 10 years as slaves. When in their life they serve those 10 years is up to them, but serve it they must. Not everyone is happy about this arrangement. The slavetowns are backbreaking and bleak, and it’s becoming more clear that being Skilled with magic is not the straight genetic shot everyone thought it was. Three young people find themselves in the midst, in different ways, of this political turmoil and magical hotbed.
Luke, a teenage boy, is serving out his 10 years of slavedom in a milltown and getting a taste for social revolution. His older sister, Abi, is serving out her years more cushily, as secretary to a powerful Equal family and finding herself in over her head. Silyen is the youngest son of that Equal family, and also the most talented magically- to the point no one knows what he’s really capable of or planning. Things mostly focus on Luke and Abi, with occasional appearances by Silyen. I found all 3 believable in the context of their world, and compelling. I’m always partial to a mysterious boy, though, so I would’ve loved to see Silyen on more pages.
This is a pretty well-done first book in a series. It sets the stage and gets the ball rolling, and gets you intrigued. Just enough happens that you want to keep going, but there is still a lot left hanging to make you pick up subsequent books. I liked that it was a mix of a lot of different things. You’ve got bits of political maneuvering, romance, espionage, magic, dystopia, revolution, family, murder, and more. All set in this alternate (yet recognizable) England. Instead of feeling schizophrenic, it mostly works. The writing style was not particularly memorable, neither beautiful nor terrible. The emphasis is on plot and character rather than language, and in this case that worked fine for me. Sometimes the text needs to get out of the way of the story.
A few things I didn’t like: some of the lesser characters were a bit cookie-cutter stereotypes. Particularly the older brother and the slave overseer. Luke and Abi’s parents were annoyingly passive about… well, everything. The ‘reveal’ towards the end as to certain revolutionaries was not at all a surprise to me, the hints were broadcast pretty widely. On the other hand, one key figure in the mix at the end seemed to come out of nowhere, as did the fact that a certain security measure was someone unknown or overlooked.
Overall, those are more minor points, and the book as whole I enjoyed quite a bit. I’m very much looking forward to getting my hands on book 2. Though it will be awhile, sadly. This first book will be out until early 2017, and no word yet on when book 2 will appear. But if you enjoy dark historical fantasy YA, put this on your TBR pile for next year.