Author: Vic James
Publication Date: February 14, 2017
Publisher: Del Rey Books
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//I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review//
Not all are free. Not all are equal. Not all will be saved.
Our world belongs to the Equals — aristocrats with magical gifts — and all commoners must serve them for ten years. But behind the gates of England's grandest estate lies a power that could break the world.
A girl thirsts for love and knowledge.
Abi is a servant to England's most powerful family, but her spirit is free. So when she falls for one of the noble-born sons, Abi faces a terrible choice. Uncovering the family's secrets might win her liberty, but will her heart pay the price?
A boy dreams of revolution.
Abi's brother, Luke, is enslaved in a brutal factory town. Far from his family and cruelly oppressed, he makes friends whose ideals could cost him everything. Now Luke has discovered there may be a power even greater than magic: revolution.
And an aristocrat will remake the world with his dark gifts.
He is a shadow in the glittering world of the Equals, with mysterious powers no one else understands. But will he liberate—or destroy?
Gilded Cage has been one of my most anticipated books of 2017 since I first read the synopsis. I was immediately intrigued by the magical Equals and I couldn't wait to find out what Abi's terrible choice was. Not to mention the revolution that was hinted at. I went in fully expecting to love it. Now I have so many feelings about Gilded Cage and not all of them are good.
This book has multiple points of view. In fact, there are chapters told from seven different points of view with some characters getting one chapter each and never appearing again. Multiple POVs can be really hit or miss, but with this many different characters it's almost always going to be a miss. I had a hard time connecting to many of the characters because they'd disappear and by the time I got back to them I had to think to remember who they were.
Abi and Luke are arguably the main characters in this story. Abi has put her med school career on hold for ten years in order to get her family cushy slave days (more on that later), but when it doesn't go as planned, Luke get sent away while Abi stays with the rest of her family. Unfortunately, I didn't particularly care about either of them. I did find Luke's story to be a bit more exciting, but I still wasn't terribly concerned about his well-being and that's never a good sign.
The real bright spots in this story were the Jardine brothers - Gavar, Jenner, and Silyen. Gavar is the family heir and undoubtedly has an extremely intriguing backstory but, oddly, none of it was revealed. In the prologue we find out that he shot his baby's mother for reasons (?) that are never discussed in the 368 pages of this book. Jenner is the brother with no magic, also for reasons (?) that are never discussed. Finally there's Silyen, the mysterious brother with an absurd amount of power for reasons (?) that are never discussed and who I would love to read an entire book about. All of them seem to fall somewhere into gray on the spectrum and I'm certain they're going to be fascinating when everything about them is finally revealed.
My real issue with Gilded Cage is that very few things are sufficiently explained. The world building is never fully fleshed out. The slave days, for example, are confusing. The normal people of Britain - all those except the Skilled Equals - are forced to give up ten years of their lives to "slave days" where they will be considered sub-human and carry out hard labor. I'm not sure how a system would work where normal citizens go off to become slaves for ten years and then reenter normal society. To be honest, I think this book could have been better without slavery. There could have easily been inequality and need for a revolution between the Equals and unskilled without slave days and it would have made more sense, at least to me.
All of that being said, the story is interesting. I was intrigued by the talk of revolution and was eager to see how it would play out (or even get started). I also really wanted to see where each of the Jardine brothers would fit into this political shift - which side would they end up on? I was riveted by every single thing that happened with the Jardines! But the weird thing about this book is that it doesn't feel complete. Absolutely nothing is answered by the end and, although I know this is set up to be a series, each book should still wrap up to some extent. This one just created more questions as time went on and never really resolved anything.
At the end of the day, I'm most baffled by the synopsis. I never did figure out what Abi's "terrible choice" was. The romance that is hinted at never really gains any momentum and neither does the revolution. I want to know more about the aristocrat who "will remake the world with his dark gifts." Re-reading the synopsis after finishing the book, it seems like an overview of the series because many of the things mentioned never happened.
If everything in the synopsis actually happened in this book, it would have been much better, although the magical and political systems would still be unbelievable. What I would really love is a book about the Jardine brothers, specifically Silyen. Based on this character alone, I will be reading the next book in the series. I was definitely disappointed by Gilded Cage, but I'm holding out hope that book two will answer a lot of questions and hopefully give more insight into the Jardine family.