by Namina Forna
Sixteen-year-old Deka lives in fear and anticipation of the blood ceremony that will determine whether she will become a member of her village. Already different from everyone else because of her unnatural intuition, Deka prays for red blood so she can finally feel like she belongs.
But on the day of the ceremony, her blood runs gold, the color of impurity–and Deka knows she will face a consequence worse than death.
Then a mysterious woman comes to her with a choice: stay in the village and submit to her fate, or leave to fight for the emperor in an army of girls just like her. They are called alaki–near-immortals with rare gifts. And they are the only ones who can stop the empire’s greatest threat.
Knowing the dangers that lie ahead yet yearning for acceptance, Deka decides to leave the only life she’s ever known. But as she journeys to the capital to train for the biggest battle of her life, she will discover that the great walled city holds many surprises. Nothing and no one are quite what they seem to be–not even Deka herself.
Deka is hoping to undergo the purity ritual and earn acceptance among her people. However, an unexpected event in her village makes this dream impossible. She soon discovers that the people she has cared for, loved, and leaned on can turn on her in a second. Her blood runs gold, marking her as impure. In a society rooted too deep in patriarchy, this impurity dooms her to death without trial.
Deka’s people believe in Oyomo’s teachings. Communities revere this religion, and anything that ventures away from the teachings becomes impure. A girl with gold blood in her veins is judged impure on sight. For “…an impure girl is despised by Oyomo, her very existence an offense to Him. Her murder is sanctioned by the Infinite Wisdoms, and who can argue with the holy books? Who would dare even try? All the families can see from then on is the demon that somehow invaded their bloodline. The sheer wickedness of it stings…” – The Gilded Ones.
Deka is doomed to die until an opportunity finds her in the hole the elders have placed her. A hole where they kill her repeatedly in an effort to end her. This opportunity gives her a chance for a new life. A chance to discover if there is more to her gold blood, and may give her a reason to live. For Deka must learn how to live with impurity as she views it. She is a believer in Oyomo too, and hopes for salvation, even as she is the very thing this Oyomo condemns. It takes great effort to get her past these beliefs and the torture and pain she endures to find herself beyond the Infinite Wisdoms can only be called a rebirth.
The Gilded Ones is not an easy fantasy read. It is full of torture and abuse of women, born from the weight of religious extremism. The religion in question is Oyomo’s holy book called the Infinite Wisdoms. The priests who teach these pearls of wisdom persecute young girls and women like Deka born from what they call The Gilded Ones. The truth of the Gilded Ones is therefore hidden in the persecution that soon turns the cruelty toward the gold-blooded women into a common occurrence.
Deka fights these injustices, trying to find the truth behind her existence. Who she is and why she is persecuted. In time, when she learns the truth, it becomes clear that she must survive and earn a life for herself.
This book is an absolute ride. I love the characters, and the world-building. I do wish there was less torture, and in the end, I feel that Deka has serious mental health issues that need resolving in time. However, I also know there is a second book and perhaps she will get to address her ghosts then.