ARC Review: Gilded Cage
Title: Gilded Cage
Author: Vic James
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Goodreads Summary:Not all are free. Not all are equal. Not all will be saved.
Our world belongs to the Equals — aristocrats with magical gifts — and all commoners must serve them for ten years. But behind the gates of England's grandest estate lies a power that could break the world.
A girl thirsts for love and knowledge.
Abi is a servant to England's most powerful family, but her spirit is free. So when she falls for one of the noble-born sons, Abi faces a terrible choice. Uncovering the family's secrets might win her liberty, but will her heart pay the price?
A boy dreams of revolution.
Abi's brother, Luke, is enslaved in a brutal factory town. Far from his family and cruelly oppressed, he makes friends whose ideals could cost him everything. Now Luke has discovered there may be a power even greater than magic: revolution.
And an aristocrat will remake the world with his dark gifts.
He is a shadow in the glittering world of the Equals, with mysterious powers no one else understands. But will he liberate—or destroy?
I was pretty excited about this book, but nearly everything about it wasn't as good as I expected or wanted it to be. I was really expecting to enjoy this, but I just couldn't get into this story.
The premise of Gilded Cage is pretty cool: the world is in a near-future Earth where everyone must provide 10 years of unpaid labor ("Slavery") in order to become a full citizen and obtain the priviliges and rights that a full citizen possesses. Most people choose to take this decade off in their adulthood, however sometimes children get roped into it when their parents choose to do their time but don't want to leave their children behind. This is exactly the situation that our main characters find themselves in. The catch is that most of the family gets to work as indentured servants at a rich mansion instead of common laborers in more dangerous conditions. Key word Most of the family.
I thought there was a lot of potential in this premise; how is self-worth and social status measured when people fluctuate between living normal lives, being laborers with no rights, and powerful members of society? How does someone's attitudes change towards fellow slaves when s/he finishes the 10 years and becomes a citizen? What keeps this system in place? It's interesting that the slavery is imposed on everyone regardless of race and other characteristics have historically and currently been cause for prejudice.
I was less than thrilled with the actual execution of this though. The conditions that the "slaves" went through were obviously not pleasant, but they were nowhere near as traumatic or hopeless as what actual slaves have gone through in history. I felt that the use of the word "Slavery" to describe what these fictional people went through trivialized the all-too-real struggles of generations of people, which I found very disrespectful. What these people went through is more like the work of immigrants and indentured laborers, except for the fact that they get no money instead of too little money to live on. What especially angered me was how being a maidservant or gardener to a bunch of magic-wielding rich people was also considered slavery. This book could have really taken an unflinching look at the cruelty we humans inflict on those we believe to be inferior, but this book never quite got there. It was all very watered down and I had a hard time sympathizing with any of the characters.
The clumsy handling of the slavery wasn't the only reason I didn't care for the characters. Most of them seemed extraordinarily self-centered and even the ones that were supposed to come across as intelligent or practical seemed pretty silly. Everyone was pretty flatly characterized; there was the angry brooding young man, the mysterious handsome stranger, the innocent little girl...just a bunch of cliches. I always have a hard time getting into a book if I don't connect with the characters.
I wouldn't recommend this book, it's not a very compelling portrayal of rebellion, it's not especially tightly plotted or engaging, and the magic just isn't that exciting. I was so disappointed after the amazing prologue, but the rest of the book just didn't live up to it.
A free eARC was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review