ARC Review: Gilded Cage by Vic James

review         book

Book Covertitle: Gilded Cage
author: Vic James
pages: 368
format: Kindle ARC
buy it: Amazon | B&N | Goodreads
rating: 3/5 (from hated to loved) or 6/10 (all books I've ever read)
recommended for: Fans of Blood Rose Rebellion by Rosalyn Eves, The Diabolic by S.J. Kincaid, or A Shadow Bright and Burning by Jess Cluess.
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?

in depth

  • Though Gilded Cage was not everything I'd hoped it would be, it definitely satisfied my craving for a unique magical world.  A good book, though not a great one, its solid characters, intriguing mystery, and dystopian/fantasy mix made it an enjoyable, quick read.  

  • This is a world where aristocrats have magic, and the poor must tithe ten years of their lives to serve as slaves for them.  Some people try to get it out of the way early, others wait until their golden years are done.  A lot of my interest in this book rode on this premise of indenture with a magical twist.  Abi and Luke are siblings separated: Abi and her family to the manor of a rich family, Luke to a crumbling factory town.  There's a Hunger Games meets A Shadow Bright and Burning vibe that feels fresh in a genre that can become worn. 

  • Where this premise faltered was in some of the execution.  I liked Abi, though I found her characterization a little thin at times.  I found Luke a little boring and so found myself thumbing quickly through his chapters trying to get past his POV.  Abi wasn't a better character so much as she was at the manor house, and the goings-on there were more twisty and unexpected than the somewhat typical dystopian revolution brewing in the factory town.  And then there were a bunch of other POVs thrown in so it felt a little discombobulated. 

  • I also loved (LOVED) Silyen, the manor's youngest lord, enigmatic and secretly pulling the strings; he's solidly chaotic neutral, and James did a phenomenal job of truly riding that line with him. You never quite know whether he's a secret softie or whether he just enjoys watching the world burn.  So really, I wanted this book to be far more about Silyen.  Or even his elder brother, a cruel autocrat with a softening fondness for children.  Or the cutthroat young woman who hopes to leverage a marriage to access power usually denied to her sex.  Or the mysterious lords who want to end slavery.  Basically, all the unequivocally good characters were kind of dull and all the ambiguous and evil ones were really fascinating.  

  • Certainly, both Silyen and the cruel eldest (whose name escapes me) were far more interesting and complex than their younger brother, a blandly charming love interest for Abi (which strikes me as creepier than it did at the time, since I've been seeing so much conversation lately around the inherent problems of master-slave relationships, so it's fresh in my head as I write this; I don't think they're out of the question in fiction, but not if they're portrayed as idyllic, uncritically).  It could also stand to be more diverse; there's a lot of white cis hetero-ness going on. 

  • These kinks prevented Gilded Cage from being a favorite, but the premise and plot interested me enough to bolster the weak characters.  There are layers of deception, political intrigue, and societal machinations that give it a Game of Thrones vibe.  It's a chessboard of flawed players vying for power--or freedom.  It's a brutal world where orphans are abandoned, where aristocrats leash humans like dogs, where none of the horrors are glossed over or excused.  And there's this ongoing mystery around Silyen's power and his aunt's mysterious coma threaded through the primary plots of rebellion and power plays.  

  • While I think other books have done parts of this better (see Red Rising, The Diabolic), I also found James' writing solid enough to keep me interested.  She's certainly hooked me enough that I'll be waiting for the sequel--and more of my dearly diabolical Silyen, of course.  Not for the faint of heart, it's a book that I imagine will curry a particular audience. There's a great deal of potential here, waiting to be unlocked. I think if the characters had been stronger, it would be much higher on my ratings list. 

  • Also I really hope they give it a new cover because seriously...? 

        in a sentence

        Gilded Cage is a raw mixture of dystopia and fantasy that leans heavily on a twisty plot and unusual premise.  


        will i read this author again?  Yep 
        will i continue the series?  Yes, although I might not rush out on release day 

        Note: I received this copy from the author/publisher in exchange for an honest review.  The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.

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