Gilded Cage (Dark Gifts #1)
By: Vic James
Published: February 14, 2017
The Rundown: “In modern-day Britain, magic users control everything: wealth, politics, power—and you. If you’re not one of the ultimate one-percenters—the magical elite—you owe them ten years of service. Do those years when you’re old, and you’ll never get through them. Do them young, and you’ll never get over them. This is the darkly decadent world of Gilded Cage. In its glittering milieu move the all-powerful Jardines and the everyday Hadleys. The families have only one thing in common: each has three children. But their destinies intertwine when one family enters the service of the other. They will all discover whether magic is more powerful than the human spirit. Have a quick ten years…”
Don’t Get Strung Out by the Way I Look: The background of the cover is an elegant silver, with fancy gates along the top and bottom. The gates are meant to represent the gates of Kyneston, home of the Jardines: the eponymous gilded cage. It’s all very pleasing, and thematically matches the book, though I’m not sure that the cover does enough to distinguish it from the other YA novels aimed at teenage girls.
What a Wonderful World: Britain is divided into two peoples: the Equals, who carry powerful magic in their blood, and everyone else. Those with Skill live as aristocrats and run the country; those without are required to serve ten years as slaves in order to maintain the Equal’s hegemony. Surprisingly, everyone seems to have accepted this arrangement for centuries. But now, rebellion is brewing… even among the Skilled.
The Good Guys: The protagonists of the story are the two eldest Hadley children.
Abi is the oldest. She sacrificed her opportunity to get into her preferred medical school in order to keep her family together during their Slave Days. She is set to work by the Jardines as an administrator of sorts, running the management of the household. She is unnerved by the Equals and appalled by some of their actions: for example, one of the Equals has a pet naked man that she treats as a dog. However, Abi’s position is much better than that of most slaves; as such, she is unwilling to challenge the existing social order.
Luke is a few years younger than Abi. At the start of the novel, he is separated from his family and sent to the slave town of Millmoor, where he does backbreaking manual labor. His experience matches those of most people; only the very fortunate manage to find cushy positions with the Equals. Appalled by the conditions in Millmore, Luke joins a nascent slave rebellion led by the kindly Dr. Jackson.
The Bad Guys: The antagonists are the three Jardine siblings.
Gavar is the eldest. He has an explosive temper, which he takes out on the slaves in his household. He had an affair with a slave and got her pregnant. After she took the child and tried to run away, he murdered her. Gavar’s love for his daughter, Libby, is his one redeeming quality. He deeply resents the way his peers view Libby, a resentment which will likely lead to clashes with the established authority in later books.
Jenner is the middle sibling; unlike his brothers, he has no Skill. This has rendered him sympathetic to the plight of the commoners. However, he lacks the moral courage to act on his convictions, and does nothing to improve their lot.
Silyen is the youngest brother, and is the most powerful. Though still a child, he is capable of feats of magic the other Equals can only dream of. Unlike his brothers, Silyen is actively trying to bring an end to the Slave Days, though admittedly for selfish reasons. Silyen is also a psychopath who views others as objects, experimenting on them to test the nature of Skill.
The Love Interest: Abi is enraptured by one of her new owners, the un-Skilled Jenner Jardine. That’s right: the slave Abi is in love with her owner. Do I really need to explain why this is offensive? Was the author unaware of the long history of female slaves being raped by their owners? Is she ignorant of the fact that many women are forced into prostitution against their will, even today? What’s appalling is how James tries to frame Abi’s relationship with Jenner as a good thing. He doesn’t have Skill, so he can’t mind-control Abi, and the two are on equal footing. But no, they’re not. Not only does Jenner own Abi, but he actively benefits from slavery as an institution. For goodness’ sake…
A+: That ending. Talk about snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Whew!
F-: I never quite bought the concept of the Slave Days. I get that it’s supposed to be an extension of English feudalism, where commoners were required to work their lords’ fields. However, the story is set in a modern context, where people listen to K-pop bands on their i-phones. It’s a bit of a stretch to imagine such people willing to submit to ten years of involuntary servitude, where they are no longer even legally classified as people. There are two ways around this problem: (1) set the clock back to the 18th or 19th century or (2) give the Equals a greater presence in everyday peoples’ lives. Most of the commoners never meet an Equal, so they have no reason to be afraid of them. It’s a pity, because they should be.
Does it Represent…
Women: Abi’s mother is a nurse, and Abi is a bonafide genius on her way to medical school. I liked that Abi enjoys trashy romance novels, but is still portrayed as intelligent. Admittedly, she appears foolish for engaging in a MASTER-SLAVE ROMANCE, but I suppose getting over Jenner is part of her arc. Abi has a ten-year-old sister, Daisy, who cares for Gavar’s daughter. There are a few powerful female Equals, such as Gavar’s fiancé, who’s angling to become prime minister, and her sister, a spoiled child who empathizes with the Commoners’ cause.
People of Color: On the side of the Equals, you have the black Prime Minister, whom Silyen manipulates into proposing a bill to end the Slave Days. On the side of the Commoners, you have Renie (also black), an adorable scamp who helps Dr. Jackson. Renie’s situation in Millmoor is meant to illustrate the hidden injustice of the Slave Days. Not sure we needed clarification of why enslaving a person for ten years is unjust, but okay.
LGBT People: Nope.
The Disabled: Nada.
Memorable Quote: “Always look at the people, not at the mass. A face, not the crowd. Look at the world, not at the ground. Every little detail you see is a victory.”
Recommended for: People who want a magical world with a political bent. Also, fans of master-slave romances?
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars