GILDED CAGE is UK writer Vic James’ debut novel and the first of her Dark Gifts trilogy. James envisions a dystopian world in the future that divides people by those with a magical and mysterious skill and those without. The story is set in London where the monarchy has been abolished and those with skill --- otherwise known as the Equals --- rule over the unskilled or commoners. As part of Equal law, all commoners must serve 10 years of their lives as slaves.
The story is told through third person narration with each chapter focusing on alternating characters who provide different points of view and motives about James’ world. The two most prominent characters whom the narration focuses on are Luke and Abi. Their parents have decided to start their slave days before Abi enters medical school and Luke’s fifteenth birthday.
"James crafts a captivating dystopian society filled with history and dimension. While the world James envisions is vastly complicated, the human expressions of fear, concern and love...are concepts that all readers can understand."
Abi works hard to keep the family together and out of the notorious slave town of Millmoor, known for its backbreaking work and abhorrent conditions. As a result, they are assigned to the estate of the most prominent Equal family in Kyneston. Abi works with the ostracized unskilled son of the Jardine family, Jenner, whose kind disposition distinguishes him even further from his skilled family. Throughout her time at Kyneston, Abi witnesses injustices of her own and the full power of Skill, which makes her wonder if her family would have been better off in Millmoor.
Although Abi files all the paperwork for her family to go to Kyneston together, two vans arrive to take the family to the start of their slave days. Luke is separated and taken to Millmoor where he stumbles into an underground group of revolutionaries. Luke spends his time in Millmoor risking his life to commit small acts of kindness for other slaves. In time, these small acts lead to big movements of resistance against the slave days and the Equals who enforce them. In the middle of a protest, Luke fears for his life most, only to wake up in a van en route to Kyneston. However, Luke’s problems don’t end upon his family reunion.
Ultimately, James crafts a captivating dystopian society filled with history and dimension. GILDED CAGE is adaptable for young adult audiences because the main characters are ones that readers can connect to and root for on their journeys. While the world James envisions is vastly complicated, the human expressions of fear, concern and love that the novel exhibits are concepts that all readers can understand. However, James does use an extensive vocabulary, so keeping a small dictionary handy may be helpful. A lot of the book is spent building her intricate world and developing the story line, which left me wanting more from her characters. Finally, James concludes her first book with a cliffhanger that will entice every reader to continue the story and see what happens next for Luke, Abi, and the rest of James’ characters in her second installment.
Reviewed by Catherine Rubino on February 13, 2017