The Gilded Ones / Namina Forna / Book Review


Sixteen-year-old Deka lives in nervous anticipation of the upcoming Ritual of Purity, which will prove once and for all that she belongs. Already different from her friends and neighbors due to the dark skin she inherited from her mother, Deka prays that her blood will run red when the time comes--and that she will finally be able to assume her place in village life.

On the day of the Ritual, however, the gathered crowds watch as Deka's blood runs gold--the color of impurity, the color of demons. Deka is taken into custody and threatened with death until a mysterious woman arrives bearing an invitation from the emperor himself.

The emperor is building a new alaki regiment--a regiment of girls of impure blood. The alaki are stronger, faster, more impervious to damage, and they are exactly the weapons needed in the on-going war against the monstrous deathshrieks that plague the land. Deka is taken to the South where she joins other girls just like her. But as their training progresses, the girls begin to realize that the war is not at all what they thought--and they might not be what they thought, either.



Complex and Important Religious System A lot of fantasy ignores the importance of religion and religious systems. Here, Namina Forna's religious system is complex and well-developed. It is important to the worldbuilding, to the characters, and to the plot. It is rare to see characters so devout portrayed in a positive light, perhaps because of a general cultural unease around the devoutly religious. The religion system in this book has both good and bad aspects, and most importantly of all, readers get to experience not just a bare-bones introduction to the religion but get to understand the different ways the same religion can be interpreted and lived out.

Vivid Worldbuilding Dripping golden blood, rattling spiny monsters, and splashing gore: this world is vivid and evocative. Forna's One Kingdom features different cultures and ethnicities, a vast and complex religious history, and a well-rounded cast of characters--most of whom are women of color. The bright and sharp language Forna utilizes brings the world and the characters alive.

Sororal Love Female-centered fantasy is made all the better when it centers around a group of girls and women who support each other and grow alongside each other. We need more of this. Fantasy tends to be male-driven, and female-led fantasy tends to center on romance. A complex, well-developed group of women characters in fantasy is as refreshing as it is important.


At times, this book felt like it was lacking the final editorial run-through that would polish it all off. There were instances of repetitive word choice and sentence structure that did not appear to be purposeful. While this is a polishing issue--and therefore nothing major--it did jump out to me as a reader. Repetitive Word Choices

Perhaps more glaring a problem than some fumbling sentences were the missing question marks and odd punctuation choices in general. The first time I saw ellipses followed by a comma, I thought it was a simple typographical error. But when the same error (...,) was repeated multiple times, I realized it was done, for some reason, on purpose. It was highly distracting and unusual. It may seem like a petty critique, but punctuation should only be used in an innovated way for a reason. Awkward Punctuation:

Splashing blood, brutal disembowelment, and characters being ripped limb from limb: the gore in this book will certainly be too much for some readers. The violence (toward human and humanoid characters) is not usually inflicted by the main cast of characters. Their violence is mostly reserved for the deathshreiks--the evil creatures who do the ripping and shredding in the first place. This book is not sadistically gory in that way, which may make the gore a bit more stomachable than other books. It is, however, heavy on the blood. Gore



Anyone hungry for more African-inspired fantasy after Rena Barron's Kingdom of Souls should check out this new feminist fantasy. Those who felt compelled by the grim and gory world of Julia Ember's Ruinsong should check out these less-than-innocent women warriors.


Publisher: Delacorte
Date: February 9, 2021
Series: Deathless
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