If you have always dreamed of writing bestsellers for young adults, dystopian fiction is the safe option. They’re all the rage nowadays, and they all follow a clear formula. Namina Forman obviously had that dream, and her debut novel, The Gilded Ones, is a dystopian young-adult book which follows that formula to the letter. Want to know what it is about? Read on!
The Gilded Ones is about Deka, who lives in the Northen Province of the fictional Otera, a country ruled by men. Women are to stay in the house and breed, and nothing else. But some women are deemed Impure, which means they bleed gold instead of normal red blood. They are called demons, because they cannot die and possess supernatural powers. Deka is one of them and becomes a soldier for the emperor, but she quickly realised her powers aren’t necessarily evil. In fact, she might even be able to change the entire world.
Like many of the recent young-adult dystopian novels, The Gilded Ones also has a strong female lead. Deka, like her colleagues from these other novels (most notably the Hunger Games) doesn’t feel like she belongs in the town she grew up in. This time, it’s because her skin is so much darker than the townspeople’s. However, she is considered very pretty by those who really see her. Furthermore, Deka is soon discovered to be so powerful that people fear her and want to kill her. She isn’t quite aware what makes her so special, but thankfully she has a teacher who reassures her that she is unique.
So far, there isn’t much new about Forna’s debut novel. In fact, The Gilded Ones uses all the ingredients needed to make girls scream for more (and, conveniently, a part two is in the making): a strong, pretty female outsider with beautiful hair acting as the narrator (she tells everything in the present tense, because it feels like you’re there with her – and also, there’s the long hair again), a loyal friend (somehow, none of these girls ever think they’re worthy of friendship – now there’s something worth investing!), a love interest (who never fails to be gorgeous), a mentor who can or cannot be trusted (lesson one in growing up is finding one’s own voice instead of mimicking one’s teacher), a high-ranking opponent (because we will not lower ourselves to the common people!), a pet (I haven’t got pets, only plants, so that’s why I’ll never be this amazing), a divided society (because otherwise one cannot rebel against its oppressors), clever taglines (who would read a novel that hasn’t got them?), and gratuitous violence (actually, there’s so much gore that this novel has not one but two disclaimers ). The two things that set The Gilded Ones apart, however slightly, is the fact that this charming but not-too-observant heroine is Black, and that the novel is about both an evil patriarchy as well as divine femininity. It could have made for such interesting reading.
It’s a pity, therefore, that The Gilded Ones gets lost in its formula. I feel like Forna was afraid to stray too much from the treaded path, and as a result sometimes awkwardly tries to cram in more elements that are demanded from the genre but which do not necessarily fit into this novel. Deka fails to really come alive, and neither do any of the other characters. Some things are simply too obvious, such as the continuous epiphanies Deka experiences that are clearly only there to help move the plot forward, or the realisation that White Hands, her mysterious mentor, is someone else entirely from whom we expected her to be – one could see it coming from page one. I kept hoping that Deka could really be a new, fresh, Black voice in the overpopulated world of dystopian fiction, but unfortunately she was bound by the rules set by her author’s predecessors.
All these dystopian novels share the theme of anarchy; its strong heroines rise up against a (usually male) dictatorship and change the world. Ironically, their writers are anything but rebellious. If only they could create truly original characters with a less conventional plot – that’s when these books, like its protagonists, would really have the power to change something.
What did you think of The Gilded Ones? What’s your favourite dystopian novel? Do you think this genre needs a formula? Do let me know in the comments! Also, don’t forget to follow me for more book-related posts!