Gilded Cage by Vic James
Series: Dark Gifts, Book 1
Published by: Del Rey Books on February 14, 2017
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)
The world is divided. There are the Equals who possess Skill, a form of inherent magic, and make up the ruling class in Britain and several other countries. And then there are the rest, the Unskilled, the commoners. And though Skill separates them, the Equals must ensure the commoners know their place. Which is why, when the Equals took power, the instituted the slavedays: all commoners must spend ten years in servitude to the Equals, either in a workhouse or on an Equal estate. It is only upon completion of the slavedays that a commoner has full rights in society.
For Luke and Abigail’s family, the slavedays have always been a bit of a shadow over them. Their parents didn’t complete their time before starting a family, so their place in the community has been limited. But in order to give their children more opportunities than they had, they’ve decided to complete them together, now, as a family. For Abigail (18), Luke (16), and Daisy (10), it seems a bit daunting, but they can appreciate having the support of their parents as they go through their ten-year of slave service. And Abigail has even arranged for them to work together at the estate of one of the foremost ruling families.
But things rarely ever go as planned. As the family departs to begin their service, they learn that Luke has been reassigned to the local slavetown and will not be joining them at the estate. While it at first seems devastating, Luke settles into his new community and quickly learns more about the Equals and the power dynamics in Britain than he ever learned in school. And he also learns that there are people who aren’t exactly happy with the current state of affairs and might just be prepared to do something about it.
Back at the estate, Abigail and Daisy are also settling in. Daisy is assigned to care for the illegitimate daughter of estate’s heir, which brings her into favor with the family, something she might just be able to use to her advantage. And Abigail finds herself drawn to the Unskilled son she is working for, as she grapples with feelings that might get her into more trouble than she bargained for.
But it turns out that the dissatisfaction with the current state of things doesn’t rest solely with the commoners. No, there are Equals who don’t like the direction Britain is headed, and they all have their reasons. In a game of politics and power, there is only so long to wait until everything reaches a tipping point and it all comes crashing down or explodes in a flurry of light. And this game provides no exception…
This is an incredible start to a new trilogy that had me on the edge of my seat for most of the book. The world building, the character development, the description–it’s all so wonderfully done. I had a very difficult time putting this down and ended up finishing it within the same day I started reading. It’s so easy to get lost in the world that Vic James has created.
There are some unexpected surprises along the way (I tried not to spoil much in my description above) that I didn’t see coming, but they still felt right. And there are some characters whose motivations I still find myself questioning–only because I don’t quite know which side of the fight they’re on. Something to explore in the future installments, to be sure!
I definitely recommend this to anyone interested in fantasy, dystopia, stories of intrigue, class/power struggles, and generally just good writing.