Book Review: THE GILDED ONES by Namina Forna

Title in gold on black next to Black girl in gold armour
Genre: Fantasy
Age Range: YA
Star Rating: 4 stars
Series: yes - first book


Book cover for THE GILDED ONES: title in white on Black girl in armour on turquoise

Sixteen-year-old Deka lives in fear and anticipation of the blood ceremony that will determine whether she will become a member of her village. Already different from everyone else because of her unnatural intuition, Deka prays for red blood so she can finally feel like she belongs.

But on the day of the ceremony, her blood runs gold, the color of impurity–and Deka knows she will face a consequence worse than death.

Then a mysterious woman comes to her with a choice: stay in the village and submit to her fate, or leave to fight for the emperor in an army of girls just like her. They are called alaki–near-immortals with rare gifts. And they are the only ones who can stop the empire’s greatest threat.

Knowing the dangers that lie ahead yet yearning for acceptance, Deka decides to leave the only life she’s ever known. But as she journeys to the capital to train for the biggest battle of her life, she will discover that the great walled city holds many surprises. Nothing and no one are quite what they seem to be–not even Deka herself.

Synopsis taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.


I went into this book not quite sure how well I’d get on with it as I’ve been struggling with YA a bit these last few months. I enjoyed it much more than I was expecting (most of the cast aren’t making rash, impulsive decisions! And there isn’t lots of romance!)

The book is certainly very feminist – patriarchal society with strict rules about what makes women “pure” (aka, serve the men and be nothing). Deka and the other alaki learn to fight and stand up for themselves, discovering that even though they are much more powerful, they’re still badly treated, and yet still decide to change the world for the better. It is a little heavy handed for me at this age, but it’s the sort of thing I’d have loved when I was a teen. The pitch of “the Dora Milaje are dropped in the Handmaid’s Tale and decide they won’t accept that” is very accurate.

I did actually work out the “twist” of this book at about the 30 page mark. It is very much that typical YA twist about what is the truth and how authority plays into that. I’ll be honest, I rather expect it in YA these days, so I expect a twist of that nature in all YA fantasy.

I prefer books that gradually build up to it, and focus on the emotions as the truth is revealed in increments (rather than dumping it all on the reader at one point and expecting you to be shocked). A friend once pointed out that no twist is new, and therefore it all comes down the execution – with many of the best twist in books being around the midpoint, so the characters have time to react and explore the consequences.

While most of the twist do come in the final 50 pages of this book, there are enough hints earlier to give Deka time to question her beliefs that it feels much more set up. There is space for her to think and grow in response to the revelations (rather than there being no real emotional reaction to a final few chapters reveal).

I liked the animals in the one – which is rare, as I’m not an animal fan usually. Ixa was just plain cute, and the squabbling Equs brothers were a lot of fun on page. Hoping for more of them in the next book – which I think is next year, despite this on being pushed back a year thanks to Covid.

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