Author: Vic James
Genre: Young adult fantasy
Release Date: February 14, 2017 (Preorder Now)
Sometime during their lives, every citizen of England has a civic duty to take their slavedays—10 years of slavery for the government, so that the aristocrats can focus on governing. These aristocrats are known as Equals, and they are born with magical gifts that separate them from the common people. The Hadley family decides to take their slavedays the day after the 10-year-old birthday of the youngest, so that the entire family carry out their days together.
Unfortunately, plans go awry when the family is split up. Their teenage son, Luke, is sent to the dangerous factory slave town of Millmoor, while the rest of the Hadleys end up serving at the estate of the most powerful family in England. Right away, Luke makes some friends at Millmoor who aren’t content to hang their heads and do their slavedays in peace—and they claim to have an Equal on the inside to help them start a rebellion. Back at the estate, Abi Hadley and her family learn that life on an estate is not as pleasant as they’d hoped, and the family has plenty of buried dark secrets.
Gilded Cage by Vic James was a dark, thrilling YA read that kept me intrigued most of the way through. I didn’t have trouble putting it down, but I was always eager to pick it back up again. The idea is rather unique and plays with a dystopian idea in which commoners accept their “slavedays” as a normal part of life. Vic James isn’t afraid to dig in deep and reveal the brutality of the system reinforced by both sides. At times, plot points are shocking and gruesome. It makes for a dark and twisted tone which stays throughout the entire novel.
That said, the novel felt rather short by the end, like it wasn’t supposed to be over yet. Of course, the book is the first installment of a series, but even so it felt as if I still knew nothing by the last page. Not much is revealed in the way of character backstory or the intricacies of their relationships. There’s very little given about the “skill” that the Equals have and what kind of powers and limitations it has. By the end, I know practically nothing about the Jardine family—even though one of them was a narrator.
Most of the story is focused on Luke and his adventures in Millmore, which were exciting and interesting to read, but I felt he had an unfair share of the book compared to the other characters. As a result, the developing romance between Jenner and Abi was basically non-existent—they have hardly any page-time interactions together, but still end up suddenly making out partway through the book.
I did enjoy the novel overall though. I just wish Vic could have invited the reader in a little better to help us become “masters” of this new world, if that makes sense. If you like a mix of the modern world and fantasy with a dark twist, then Gilded Cage is the book for you—just don’t expect much romance.
James, Vic. Gilded Cage. Del Ray Books. 2017. 368 p. 9780425284155
Creative Writing Analysis:
Choosing your third person narrators
James’ novel is written in 3rd person limited point of view, with multiple viewpoint characters. While this in itself is nothing strange for the genre, her choice of narrators was strange. The two main characters as narrators, Abi and Luke, makes sense and are what we expect. The other viewpoints, were more… unusual. Of course, some of these viewpoint characters might have been carefully selected based on what will happen in the future books, so it’s hard to really why James made the choices she did. Here’s a breakdown of the other narrators in Gilded Cage and my thoughts on James’ choices:
In addition to Abi and Luke, the other “main” narrator was Gavar Jardine, the oldest son at the estate where Abi and her family are assigned. I suppose he was chosen because he runs in different circles than Abi and Luke, and lets the reader in on how high society among the Equals works—to an extent. It’s still a strange choice in my opinion. He never felt “natural” as a narrator to me. He doesn’t care or interact with Luke or Abi, and had no interest in taking place in a larger main plot. As a result, he felt like nothing more than a camera for us to see what was going on where Abi and Luke can’t go.
One cool thing about how James pulled off the viewpoint: Gavar spacing off. There would be “dips” in the narrative where Gavar is in the middle of a meeting/conversation in paragraph and somewhere else in the next. Each time it’s disorienting, but somehow in a good way? It’s to show how little he cares about what goes on, and often described as him spacing off. He also doesn’t spell out all he knows, which makes sense for him. He’s familiar with the world of the Equals and won’t spend all day describing things to the reader. This keeps him from revealing too much and damaging the story suspense.
The first chapter is narrated by Leah, who dies at the end of that first chapter. I didn’t have too much of a complaint with this, but it did make the first chapter read like more of a prologue than an actual first chapter. It also gives us a fleeting first impression of the three Jardine brothers from the view of someone who already knows them. By that point, Leah had been doing her slavedays with them for some time and could give us a reliable opinion on what they’re like.
One of the other chapters is narrated by Bouda, one of the aristocrats and arguably a villain or at least an antagonist. She only narrates a single chapter. This would not have been so odd if she had other chapters throughout the book, but the fact that it was one and done for her was strange. Was it just to get a taste of her inner thoughts? To be honest, I can’t remember why we, as readers, absolutely needed that chapter by her. We learn enough about her personality and motivations through the other chapters.
I suppose it gave readers a unique perspective from one of the Equals who firmly believes that slavery is good for the country, and see what that side “stands” for even if we don’t agree. This would have felt more natural if James had given us one or two more scenes from Bouda’s point of view.
The mysterious young master, Silyen, would have been a fantastic narrator, but he was not. He didn’t have much page time at all, but definitely stood out as someone working behind the scenes to get things done. I’m positive he’ll become a more prominent part of the story in the next books. James likely chose to NOT have him be the narrator because she wants to keep that air of mystery around him. We don’t know Silyen’s motives or loyalties, and that makes for powerful suspense.
On the other hand, having him as a main narrator would have been like letting readers in on a secret. The suspense would still be there in the sense of dramatic irony. We know what Silyen is up to, but no one else does. I do believe this could have been pulled off well! It would have been extremely interesting to see clever Sil pulling strings from the dark.