ARC Review: Gilded Cage by Vic James

Title: Gilded Cage
Author: Vic James
Series: Dark Gifts, #1
Pages: 368
Publisher: Del Rey Books
Release Date: February 14th 2017
*I received a copy of this book from the publisher, which does not influence my review*

      “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?

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Gilded Cage by Vic James has a unique premise, but never quite held my attention. It’s always disconcerting to go into a book thinking one thing and finding out it’s entirely something else. From the synopsis, I got the impression this was a historical fantasy; however, the novel is more in the vein of dystopian fantasy. In a world divided between those with unique Skills and those without, the Equals wield power through unconscionable means. Each citizen is required to fulfill ten years of slavery, most in the dilapidated slavetowns. When Abi arranges for her family to serve the Jardines, one of the most powerful Equal families, she hopes the decade passes quickly without incident. But her plans immediately go awry when her younger brother, Luke, is torn from his family and forced to work at the slavetown of Millmoor. Both will discover that Equals are far more dangerous than anyone imagined and there may be no stopping them.

Abi is a character that deserved a better storyline. She’s a hopeless romantic, but she’s smart and keeping her family safe is of utmost importance to her. Unfortunately, much of Abi’s story centers on her attraction to one of the Jardine sons. She spends most of her time inquiring about her brother or swooning over Jenner. Jenner was the least complex of the three Jardine brothers. None of the chapters are told through his perspective and he only shows up in order for Abi to silently wish he felt the same way about her. Abi’s crush is hard in itself to understand. The Equals are not known for their generosity and for whatever reason, Abi seems to forget that Jenner is part of the family that has enslaved hers. They literally treat a man like a dog, though Abi never struggles to reconcile Jenner’s supposed goodness with the acts of his family. There’s never a moment where he needs to prove himself to her as she’s all too ready to admire him based on the fact that he’s nicer than his brothers (which isn’t a hard thing to be).

Luke had the far more interesting storyline when he ends up working in harsh conditions, but finds light when he meets a group of commoners who aren’t ready to give up total control to the Equals. There’s a strong sense of community among them as they look after and provide for one another when those in charge see them as less than human. Their plans begin to expand as they get word that there is a possibility of the slavedays ending for good. Luke learns a lot through his time at Millmoor, but I did begin to wonder why neither he nor Abi had any real understanding of what went on in the slavetowns if everyone in the population, save for the Equals, was required to serve. Luke is just beginning to find his place in this group when he’s suddenly pulled right out of it. His arc comes to a chaotic close at the end of the novel that left me wondering if the rebellion really knew what they were doing to begin with.

The most interesting character was the youngest Jardine brother Silyen. He was manipulative and vicious and it was only when he was yielding power that I felt I had a grasp of what having a Skill meant. But even he wasn’t enough to save this novel. The periodic info-dumping didn’t help either, especially as I struggled to get through these chapters in particular. I was also never sure if this was a universe built upon real-world history or a form of alternate history as it never addressed colonialism and slavery, which I imagine would have an impact on how this new form of slavery would be received.

Rating: 2/5

★★

Mini Reviews: The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind + The Forgetting

MiniIt’s been a while since I put together a couple of mini reviews. I’m seeing a pattern emerge with these mini reviews, that I’m more likely to write them when I’ve rated a book three stars. It’s always those books in the middle that are sometimes hard to find all the right words for. This week I’m reviewing Meg Medina’s The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind and Sharon Cameron’s The Forgetting. Covers below are linked to Goodreads.

Title: The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind
Author: Meg Medina
Series: N/A
Pages: 256
Publisher: Candlewick
Release Date: March 13th 2012 

      “Sixteen-year-old Sonia Ocampo was born on the night of the worst storm Tres Montes had ever seen. And when the winds mercifully stopped, an unshakable belief in the girl’s protective powers began. All her life, Sonia has been asked to pray for sick mothers or missing sons, as worried parents and friends press silver milagros in her hands. Sonia knows she has no special powers, but how can she disappoint those who look to her for solace?
      Still, her conscience is heavy, so when she gets a chance to travel to the city and work in the home of a wealthy woman, she seizes it. At first, Sonia feels freedom in being treated like all the other girls. But when news arrives that her beloved brother has disappeared while looking for work, she learns to her sorrow that she can never truly leave the past or her family behind.

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“What would you do here in Tres Montes. Sonia? We both know that not even a magic girl can fill stomachs with wind and spells.”

Meg Medina’s The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind is a story of a girl who learns to define herself when her entire identity has been defined by how other people see her. For people in Tres Montes, Sonia Ocampo’s birth was a blessing that brought peace to the town when they were sure it would crumble under a storm. Over the years, her prayers on their behalf have kept them safe and healed the sick. But this gift has become a curse to Sonia, she grows weary of shouldering the town’s burdens and it feels impossible to continue when she begins to doubt her gift. Although I found this story enjoyable, I couldn’t help but want more. The novel itself was very short and I would have liked to have spent more time with Sonia and her town before she chose to leave it. With family ties at its core, The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind is a beautifully told coming-of-age story that is both heartbreaking and hopeful.

Rating: 3/5

★★★


Title: The Forgetting
Author: Sharon Cameron
Series: N/A
Pages: 403
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Release Date: September 13th 2016

      “Nadia lives in the city of Canaan, where life is safe and structured, hemmed in by white stone walls and no memory of what came before. But every twelve years the city descends into the bloody chaos of the Forgetting, a day of no remorse, when each person’s memories – of parents, children, love, life, and self – are lost. Unless they have been written.
      In Canaan, your book is your truth and your identity, and Nadia knows exactly who hasn’t written the truth. Because Nadia is the only person in Canaan who has never forgotten.
      But when Nadia begins to use her memories to solve the mysteries of Canaan, she discovers truths about herself and Gray, the handsome glassblower, that will change her world forever. As the anarchy of the Forgetting approaches, Nadia and Gray must stop an unseen enemy that threatens both their city and their own existence – before the people can forget the truth. And before Gray can forget her.”

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“We run, hard, and the ground falls away, and then we are the ones falling, soaring, and I catch a glimpse of the sparkling canyon, the misty pool below, the spray of the waterfall, three moons cresting the peak of a mountain.”

I approached Sharon Cameron’s The Forgetting with a little apprehension. Dystopian novels have had their day in my mind and they all start to sound alike after a while. This novel really didn’t offer anything new when compared to other dystopian books. I will say that Nadia’s character was different from what I typically see in these kind of novels. She’s quiet and withdrawn, a reaction to feeling very alone in the world. But Nadia also keeps herself closed off from others as a matter of self-preservation. Her closest relationship is with her younger sister Genivee, and even though her older sister Liliya is determined to be rid of her, Nadia shows a deep devotion to both. Gray himself was a likable character, but there was nothing particularly unique about him. The Forgetting wasn’t necessarily a bad book, but not much about it felt very memorable.

Rating: 3/5

★★★

The Revolution of Ivy by Amy Engel

The Revolution of Ivy by Amy Engel

Title: The Revolution of Ivy
Author: Amy Engel
Series: The Book of Ivy, #2

When Ivy Westfall was forced to marry the President’s son, Bishop Lattimer, she had one goal, to kill him. But her new husband was not the person she was led to believe and she refused to follow through with her original plan. When the plot to assassinate him is discovered, Ivy is cast out. Little is known about the land outside her city, but Ivy must gather all her strength if she has any hope of surviving. Ivy believes the life she once had is now part of the past, but when a familiar face shows up, she must consider whether her actions irrevocably changed the city she left behind.

“I expected it to be difficult outside the fence. And dangerous. But I never anticipated how relentlessly empty it would be. How vast the land and how small I am in comparison, almost like I’m steadily shrinking nothing under the endless expanse of the late-summer sky.”

The Revolution of Ivy, the final book in Amy Engel’s duology, is a good ending but lacked enough build-up to feel completely satisfying. In the wilderness, Ivy must learn to rely on herself, to recognize her own strengths, something she was only beginning to do in the first novel. Much of the book felt like a sophomore release, tying the first book’s events to its inevitable conclusion. Thus, when the conclusion came, much of what happened felt rushed. Many of the key players could have been given more development, especially Ivy’s father and sister. We learn so little about them in the first book, save for their determination to oust the Lattimers and the callousness with which they treat Ivy. Callie is always presented as everything Ivy isn’t and I would have liked to have spent more time getting to know her.

Along her journey, Ivy meets Ash and Caleb, adoptive siblings who have spent their lives surviving the wasteland. Though Ash immediately takes to Ivy, providing her with the kind of friendship she never had with her own sister, Caleb finds it more difficult to trust a stranger. Slowly, they become to Ivy the kind of family that her real family never was. Instead of trying to be someone she’s not, Ivy is able to be herself around them, something she was never able to be with anyone, not even Bishop.

The Revolution of Ivy really gives the protagonist a chance to shine, but I felt the storyline needed to focus more on the city of Westfall and its politics in order to feel like a fully flushed-out story.

Rating: 3/5

★★★