The Gilded Ones: cinematic YA fantasy

Last night I finished reading The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna. describes the story:

The Gilded Ones is an bold and immersive West African-inspired and empowering feminist fantasy story that follows sixteen-year-old Deka living in Otera, a deeply patriarchal ancient kingdom. There, a woman’s worth is tied to her purity, and she must bleed to prove it. But when Deka bleeds gold – the color of impurity, or that of a demon – she faces a consequence worse than death. She is saved by a mysterious woman who tells Deka of her true nature: she is an Alaki, a near-immortal with exceptional gifts. The stranger offers her a choice: fight for the Emperor, with others just like her, or be destroyed.

It’s the first in the Deathless trilogy, and is being made into a film. Forna is a screenwriter as well as an author, so it only seems natural that she would also write the screenplay. In fact, I found the book to be very cinematic; chapters often seem like short movie scenes rather than developed prose, which is fine for a fast paced story, but I wanted more detail.

The characters often seem like brief sketches of people; I really can’t tell you much about the supporting cast, who are all meant to be close friends of the protagonist, Deka, and that is a problem when we are meant to believe that they have formed a deep bond with her.

Similarly, Deka, the main character, simply progresses through a series of events and discoveries. Even though she is the narrator, I feel like we don’t ever really get to know her very well. She tells us how she feels and what she’s thinking, but we are rarely shown her development; she simply tells us.

I appreciate that I am not the targeted audience for this book, and perhaps it will all be more effective on the big screen, but for now, I don’t feel the need to read the sequel, The Merciless Ones, which will be released next month.

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