ARC review: Gilded Cage by Vic James

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IN A WORLD WHERE… everyone in Britain just accepts that they’re going to be slaves for ten years and literally doesn’t even think about revolting.  Wait, what?  Let me try again.

Gilded Cage takes place in a futuristic dystopian society where not much about the world has changed, except for the fact that commoners are required to spend ten years enslaved to the magical aristocrats.  (Because this is a fantasy book, we’re required to capitalize Random words to show their Importance, so magical = Skilled, and aristocrats = Equals.  Gotta get the slang defined before I start my review!)  Why must everybody be a slave for ten years?  I’m not really sure.  And how’d the aristocrats get magic?  Also not really sure.  Why do these magical people need slaves to do their laundry and fix their cars when they literally have MAGIC?  Who knows! But let’s go with it anyway.

The Hadleys seem like any normal family that you might find living down the street from you.  Abi, the eldest daughter, is studying for med school.  Luke, the middle child, is a hardworking, good guy.  Daisy, the youngest, enjoys having dance parties with her friends.  All seems normal until their parents announce that they’re packing up the family to do their slavedays.  No big deal.

I think I read a different book than everyone else.  Every review I’ve seen so far has been absolutely glowing, going on and on about how unique the plot was, how intricate the world-building, how thrilling the plot twists, how entirely unpredictable everything was… I don’t understand.  At all.  Because this book, like many other recent dystopias, just felt flat.

I have a lot of thoughts and feelings about this book, so I think a bulleted list is probably best.

Dislikes, questions, and problems:

  • The romance.  It’s a mess, really.  I get why Abi might fall for Jenner.  And I get why Jenner might fall for Abi.  But their whole “romance” felt really forced, probably because after Abi has known Jenner for all of about twelve seconds, she’s basically announced that she’s going to fall in love with him.  Foreshadowing and blatantly telling the reader that something will happen are not the same thing.
  • There are way too many POVs for the length of this book. Each character gets, what, maybe five chapters, and then we’re done. This isn’t enough time to establish their feelings, their motivations, to give their actions a purpose.  It just makes everything feel rushed.
  • The pacing was so uneven. There were stretches of this book where I was just so bored and then there’d be a couple really exciting chapters in a row.  It took me forever to read the book because of this.
  • Everyone acted like the Equals were so scary, but most of them were just normal.  Even Gavar, who literally everybody was terrified of, is super nice to Daisy, is a puddle of emotions when it comes to his daughter, and is never actually evil without reason.
  • The magic didn’t make a lot of sense to me.  These capital-S-Skilled guys can just do pretty much whatever they want.  Mind control.  Memory wipes.  Dreamwalking.  Creating doors out of nowhere.  Poking around in someone’s head to find their true intentions.  Growing trees out of nothing.  Killing deer with their minds.  Preventing people from sharing secrets.  Making pre-furnished magical buildings rise up out of the ground.  Instantly healing injuries.  How and why?  Unimportant, I guess.  Also, the characters (un-Skilled) act like they have no idea what the Equals can do, but at the beginning of the book, Abi is literally reading a romance novel in which the hero does many of these things???
  • Finally, this book is just really depressing.  Everybody just goes along accepting their sad lives, not caring that their fingers are probably going to get chopped off in some shady factory in a slave town, their children will probably be beaten within an inch of their lives by some overzealous guard, and that they’ll probably have nothing to their name and their former skills will be outdated when they finally get out of the hellish slavedays.  Aside from Luke’s gang of friends, nobody really cares about changing things.  I mean, imagine The Hunger Games if Katniss was the only one who saw a problem with little kids fighting each other.  What would be the point?

And the good:

  • I was actually really interested in the premise of the rebel club.  I do wonder how, out of all the people in Millmoor, there were only like six people who questioned the status quo.  But it was really cool how they banded together and combined their talents to help those who needed it and bring attention to the reality fo their situation.
  • I think this was definitely an interesting and unique premise, and it’s possible that the galley I read will be edited to better explain the magic system (or maybe that will happen in later books in the series).  If there were a better explanation for why exactly all of Britain one day just decided they were okay with being slaves for ten years at a time, losing their jobs, their livelihood, their homes, and their health for literally nothing in return, I might have an easier job accepting everything.

Clearly, a lot of people have enjoyed this book.  Maybe I’ve read too much dystopia in my life and I’m just jaded, but I really did not see the point of the hype here.  (And, honestly, I should know to stop reading them by now.)  The small chunks of the book that made me feel anything other than apathetic just left me feeling uncomfortable.

But please, don’t forgo this book just because it wasn’t my cup of tea.  Like I’ve said before, plenty of other readers have really loved this book.  It all comes down to personal preference, and this just wasn’t mine.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the ARC.

Final rating: ★★☆☆☆