Gilded Cage by Vic James

Gilded Cage by Vic James is darkly fantastical debut set in a modern England where magically gifted aristocrats rule, and commoners are doomed to serve – for ten years of their lives, at the mercy of cruel master who view them as nothing more than chattels of the state.

“I know you like history, Abigail. Remember: those who don’t learn from it are doomed to repeat it. Or should it be: those who do learn from it are able to repeat it?” – Silyen (Vic James, Gilded Cage, p. 279)

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. Abi is a servant to England’s most powerful family, but her spirit is free. So when she falls for one of their noble-born sons, Abi faces a terrible choice. Uncovering the family’s secrets might win her liberty—but will her heart pay the price? 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. He is a shadow in the glittering world of the Equals, with mysterious powers no one else understands. But will he liberate—or destroy? (Chapters.Indigo.ca)

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Gilded Cage is one of those fantastic books that is hanging on the brink between being Young Adult Fantasy and Adult Fantasy – in the yet to be recognized genre of New Adult books (The New Adult genre being fiction similar to YA that can be published and marketed as adult, which focuses on  protagonists in the 18–30 age bracket dealing with themes of life after an individual has become of legal age, and how one deals with the new beginnings of adulthood – themes such as  identity, sexuality, depression, suicide, substance abuse, empowerment, loss of innocence, and fear of failure). Here, Vic James, like other authors before her, challenges the parameters of our current recognized genres by creating a book that is too mature to be considered YA, but focuses on protagonists much younger than those typically recognized in Adult literature. And the topics investigated in Gilded Cage – of identity, sexuality, loss of innocence and fear of failure are critical – they recognize the struggles our new adults face today, as they leave the shelter of home, and confront the harsh light of reality for the first time. Gilded Cage is a fantastic book for its examination of loss of innocence alone, but also for a plethora of other reasons, the least of which is its challenging of the genre.

Gilded Cage follows the story of commoner siblings Abigail and Luke, and their family, as they begin their ten years of mandatory slave service – to England’s most powerful Equal family. The story is told through their eyes, but also through the perspectives of those around them, such as Silyen and Gouda, young Equals, who’s different perspectives allow the reader to follow the legal proceedings following the Proposal of eliminating slave days, in addition to gaining an insight to the Equals side of the events.As Abigail struggles to adapt to their new living situation while finding a way to bring her brother back to the family, Luke struggles with the hard labour suddenly thrust upon him in the slave town, and the rebellion he has unwittingly found himself a part of. Meanwhile, the Equals navigate a complex world of politics, wherein so many plots are afoot that even George RR Martin would have trouble keeping track of the political undercurrent.This complexity is thoroughly engaging, but also (at times) overwhelming and confusing. Thankfully, James brought everything together at the end, including both some expected and unexpected plot twists that will leave readers reeling.

The plot twist I was most satisfied with was the reveal of Doc and Angel’s true identities. (If you haven’t read Gilded Cage yet, I recommend skipping the rest of this paragraph!) I suspected early on that Doc and Angel weren’t commoners, and as James continued to weave her story, I began to suspect that there was more to Didi’s “missing” love interest. When it was revealed that both were Equals working to eliminate the Slave Days, it was not unexpected, but was very rewarding/satisfying. Sometimes, the success of the twist is not in the reveal itself, but in the journey to the reveal – which James did spectacularly. Really, one of the best plot twists I’ve read in awhile, even if you do see it coming – simply because of the scope of the plot!

Overall, Gilded Cage by Vic James was a highly enjoyable and engaging read – something I didn’t expect, but that I am certainly very glad about!  The characters were divers, complex and interesting, drawing the reader into the story with their unique, converging stories as they careened towards inevitable disaster. Furthermore, the underlying plots and games being played by nearly everyone made for a confusing web of lies and deceit that will be difficult to untangle (4/5).

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