Series: Dark Gifts Series
Author: Vic James
Genre: YA, Dystopian, Fantasy
Published: 2017-2018 (Pan Macmillan)
Synopsis: In modern-day Britain, magic users control everything: wealth, politics, power—and you. If you’re not one of the ultimate one-percenters—the magical elite—you owe them ten years of service. Do those years when you’re old, and you’ll never get through them. Do them young, and you’ll never get over them.
This is the darkly decadent world of Gilded Cage. In its glittering milieu move the all-powerful Jardines and the everyday Hadleys. The families have only one thing in common: Each has three children. But their destinies entwine when one family enters the service of the other. They will all discover whether any magic is more powerful than the human spirit.
Have a quick ten years. . . .
Gilded Cage describes a society split between Equals, the nobility who possess magical Skills, and the skill-less commoners. In Britain, the Equals run things, controlling the nation from Parliament. And the main way they do this is through the slavedays, a period of ten years during which every commoner must spend as slaves, either working in one of Britain’s many slavetowns or serving on one of the Equal families’ estates.
Eighteen year old Abi Hadley finds out that the Jardine family, the most powerful Equals in the country are looking for house slaves. Thinking that this will be an opportunity for the family to stay together, and that too at the vast estate of Kyneston (a luxury compared to the harsh conditions of the slavetowns), the Hadley family sign up for their days, taking with them their son, 16 year old Luke and 10 year old Daisy. But when the Jardines decide they don’t have enough work for all of them, Luke is separated from his family and sent away to the industrial slavetown of Millmoor. Kyneston, however, is unlike what they imagined, and every member of the Jardine family has their own secrets and motives. Patriarch Lord Whittam Jardine is plotting to retake control of Britain even though his time as Chancellor is complete. There are disturbing rumours about Heir Gavar killing a slave on the estate and the youngest, Silyen, is just an all round oddity, extremely gifted and clearly playing a long term game completely different from the one everyone around him is involved in. The ambitious and ruthless Bouda Matravers, Gavar’s fiancée, is determined to become the first female Chancellor, and she won’t let anything stop her. The Skill-less middle son Jenner seems to be the only decent one of the lot. Meanwhile, Luke falls in with a group of rebels at Millmoor, who try to improve life for the commoners and bring about a change in the way the country is run.
This series has been on my backlist for the longest time, and I finally got around to finishing it last week. Narrated from multiple POVs that change with each book in the series, Gilded Cage’s strongest point in my opinion was the world building, along with the way the characters were introduced and positioned before all the chaos began. The political aspect of the series is also one I found to be very interesting. It is probably the sole thing I liked about Bouda Matravers, because otherwise, she’s a largely unlikeable character, not least for her view of Gavar’s daughter. Starting out, I didn’t really like either Abi or Luke – Abi because she was pretty much focussed only on Jenner and Luke…well, because his storyline takes quite some time to pick up. Moving into the second and third books however, it is his POV, along with Silyen’s that turned out to be the most interesting of the lot.
My favourite thing about all these books though, is how completely unpredictable they are. Both on the rebellion and the political fronts, no character is safe, and everyone has their own hidden agendas. There is no shortage of twists and cliffhangers and it makes for an exciting and engrossing read. It would have been nice to have POV chapters for some of the side characters, especially Jenner, with the twist his character took in Tarnished City. I was particularly curious as to exactly what was going on inside his head in that book and the next. Bright Ruin was a fitting end to the series, if a little rushed – I thought the ending could have been explained a lot better and with more detail. The important plot lines were tied up nicely, but a few felt unresolved – Jenner’s was one and it felt like his arc ended too easily. And the obvious one of course, is Silyen and Luke. There’s enough story left there for a whole other book, I think.
Overall, this is a strong series that maintains the quality of story telling throughout and I rated all three books 4 stars. While it does get pretty dark and violent at some places, this is quite a thought-provoking read and I would definitely recommend it, particularly for dystopian fans.
Have you read this series? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!