From the publisher: 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. A boy dreams of revolution. And an aristocrat will remake the world with his dark gifts.
Gilded Cage is a bit like Hunger Games meets Harry Potter. It is set in an alternate, modern Britain. Although they don’t use wands, there are people with magical skills called Equals. They live in luxury while those without magical powers must serve them as slaves for 10 years of their lives. It’s the kind of world imagined by Harry Potter’s Gellert Grindelwald and Tom Riddle.
The perception among those who haven’t served their slavedays is that they aren’t that bad, but they are. While serving their slavedays, people have no rights, and most are not adequately fed, clothed, housed, or cared for medically. Most Equals take their better circumstances as a right, although a few among the Skilled are fighting to end the slaveday system.
Gilded Cage focuses on a family of five that decides to do their slavedays together. (I never really understood how people could choose their slavedays – if you could put it off indefinitely, couldn’t you die before doing them?) The parents and their three children expect to be sent to one of the cushier spots – serving one of the aristocratic Equal families. But their teenaged son Luke gets sent to one of the brutal factory towns instead.
Although the focus and narrative viewpoint of the chapters moves between several characters, Luke and his older sister Abi seem to be the focal point. Abi works with one of the sons of the Equal family who has no Skill (a squib, if you like, although he seems to be the only one around). There is a lame insta-romance between them that really just got in the way.
There are a lot of nuanced characters, and you cannot always tell if they are good or bad. There are some truly evil characters too, and some really good ones. There is also some heavy handed writing (for example, a man in a cage tells Abi, “You’re in – the pen – too….Just – I see – my cage – my leash.” (p. 208 of the advance reader copy)). Many of the scenes (especially those in the factory town Millmoor) felt so familiar I had to remind myself that I haven’t actually read this book before. But there are some original touches, and the plot twists compelled me to keep reading. If you are looking for a well written dystopian novel with interesting characters, you may enjoy Gilded Cage (first in a series).
I read an advance reader copy of Gilded Cage. It will be published in February 2017, and it will be available through the Galesburg Public Library as a print book and an ebook.