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February 14, 2017

Review: The Gilded Cage by Vic James

by MK French

February 2017; Del Rey Books; 9780425284155;
ebook & print (368 pages); young adult, fantasy
a free ARC was provided for this review

In an alternate version of England, the Equals are the ones that rule. They have Skill, different powers that set them above the commoners, who must serve their aristocratic families for ten years as slaves. There are no rights, no privileges, not even the consideration of being human during those ten years. Abigail tried to arrange for her entire family to serve their ten years for the most powerful family in England, but her brother Luke is sent to a work camp. Even among the Equals, there are rivalries and jealousies, as well as machinations and conspiracies that threaten to overtake the government. Luke is caught up in a rebellion, and Abigail is simply trying to survive.

The story is compelling and the background is immersive. Details are laid out over time so that the reader discovers more about the Equals as Abigail and Luke do in their different locations. Descriptions of the alternate history of this England is fascinating, as well as the actual powers that the Skilled have. They are the ones with rights and privileges, wealth and rank. The powers they have could bring great benefit to their families or be the source of tragedy; grief from one Skilled woman led to utter destruction and a twenty-five-year coma. It isn't just in England, too. Mention is made of other countries all over the world having Skilled people, and the Civil War in the United States led to a divided nation. The north believed in equality and not having Skilled people in charge, and the South kept their Skilled elite. It's a very interesting take on class and social structures.

The trading viewpoints gives you insight into what Luke and Abigail go through; the situations are horrible in different ways, and I found myself getting angry on their behalf. Horrible things happen to slaves, and most of the people in charge, free or Equal, don't care at all. The ones that do care have to move carefully via "games" to ferment revolt among the commoners. Luke certainly has the worst physical punishment and wear, but Abigail is still used at the whims of the Skilled around her. At first, the machinations are subtle, and it isn't clear that there are other forces behind the revolts. The last third of the book is one surprising twist after another. Even so, the end is a complete shock and I kept hoping that something would change for the characters. This is the first book in a series, though, so likely the fallout from this book will play out in future books. I can't wait to read them.

Buy The Gilded Cage at Amazon

 Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and golden retriever.

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