Book Review: Gilded Cage by Vic James
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 2.5 of 5 stars
Series: Book 1 of Dark Gifts
Publisher: Del Rey (February 14, 2017)
Length: 368 pages
Rarely have I read a story where my thoughts at the end are such a complete turnaround from my thoughts at the beginning. When I first started Gilded Cage, I was beyond pumped–the excellent writing, solid world-building, and strong portrayals of the main characters all made me think this book was going to have everything I wanted. Yet by the time I finished, I could barely even put my feelings into words. I didn’t love it, but I also didn’t hate it. The whole thing just left me cold.
In the alternate world of this young adult dystopian, Great Britain is nation starkly divided along class lines. The Equals are the ruling elites who run the government, live on sprawling estates, and enjoy the power granted to them by their magical gifts. Then there are the commoners, who may be the majority, but they have no representation and are expected to submit themselves to a mandatory ten-year term of service to the Equals. This period is called their “slavedays”, in which they will have all their rights stripped away and no longer be considered citizens.
When the story begins, we are introduced to a family about to begin their slavedays. Siblings Abi, Luke, and Daisy Hadley have been arranged to accompany their parents assigned to the Jardine estate, home of one of the most prominent nobles in Equal society. However, on the day the Hadleys are scheduled to depart, a misunderstanding occurs and 16-year-old Luke is instead separated from his family and shipped off to the slavetown of Millmoor. Feeling desperate and alone, he befriends a group of fellow slaves who teach him how to survive, which in turn makes Luke realize there are more ways to fight back than he’d previously believed.
Meanwhile at the Jardine estate, the rest of the Hadley family are exposed to all the political intrigues and scheming of the Lord and Lady Whittam, along with their three sons Gavar, Jenner, and Silyen. Nevertheless, Abi ends up falling for one of the noble-born young men against her better judgment, putting her in the terrible place of questioning her loyalties and having to decide between freedom and love.
Despite its hackneyed dystopian premise and the overly simplistic concepts, I really did enjoy the first part of this book. From Animal Farm to The Hunger Games, you see a lot of the same themes get used over and over for these types of stories, and yet I never seem to get enough. While the core ideas behind Gilded Cage might not be anything we haven’t seen before, I did enjoy seeing Vic James’ take on them and her attempt to inject a few twists. The prologue was a perfect ten what it came to capturing my attention, and what I read in first few chapters made me want to know more. The writing was also delectable.
So I was shocked when it hit me; somewhere around the quarter to midway point, all my previous enthusiasm had somehow drained away, and I hadn’t even realized it was happening. It just occurred to me suddenly that I was bored, I didn’t really care about the characters, and I was zoning out more and more. The feeling was ambivalence, also known as the death knell of a book under review.
Here’s what I think happened: 1) over time, the strength of the story began eroding due to too many POVs. I couldn’t help but feel the author was trying to emulating the structure and style of an epic fantasy, except, of course, Gilded Cage is not an epic fantasy. 2) The story got hung up on too many unnecessary details. Don’t get me wrong, though. Details are nice. Details are important. But when I find I can zone out or forget everything that was said for several pages at a time, and then have it make absolutely no difference at all in the end, that’s a problem. 3) The split storytelling between the Jardine estate and Millmoor was an interesting decision, but I’m not sure that it was carried out too well. While it was nice seeing a picture of both sides of the world, the ultimate effect was neither here nor there. I couldn’t form a connection to either storyline, and ended up shrugging off both.
I’m not going to sugarcoat it. I’m disappointed. What started off so promising ended up making me feel so…blah. Still, that’s not to say the book didn’t have it strengths. I recommend giving it a try if the description interests you. It has also been received very positively by a lot of other readers, and I encourage everyone to check out their reviews for another perspective because they do a fantastic job covering all of the story’s charms and high points. Simply put though, the strengths were not enough to overcome the ennui I felt for most of the book, which stumbled after a great beginning and unfortunately never recovered its momentum.