Review – Gilded Cage, Vic James

Thankyou Hampshire Library eBooks. I love getting to read (almost) new fantasy for absolutely free. I especially love getting to read actually pretty decent fantasy!

Vic James is a fellow Oxford graduate which is nice to know, especially since there is a special circle of hell where writers who have never been to England but still write about England go. This actually did a pretty good job of representing an alternative world, complete with the North/South divide – much appreciated.

But on to the book itself. Gilded cage follows the structure that, while it wasn’t created by him, was made famous by George R.R. Martin. While sometimes this can lead to a disjointed story and difficulties of maintaining any kind of chronology, James’ characters are somewhat less numerous than Martin’s so it makes a lot more sense.

The world building (of the utmost importance in the opening of a new series) is pretty well done. I’ll confess I skimmed a lot of the not-so-subtle socio-political scene setting, but that’s because I’m not overly interested in it, if you’re a better historian than I you might enjoy the alternative history James sets out. What I care most about in books that involve magic is the magic mechanic. In James’ universe magic is known as Skill (always with the capital S) and is the unique possession of the upper classes or ‘Equals’ (or is it?). Those who aren’t equals (commoners) are forced, at some point in life, to undergo ten years of ‘slavedays.’ It sounds like it could be dangerously clunky as a setting but it actually works pretty well as a set up.

Unlike The Hunger Games (which, as all young adult novels are, this has been compared to) the emphasis of, at least this first novel, is on the political situation and the nuances thereof. This isn’t to say there isn’t action and romance but it’s not the focal point. the politics is juicy and sinister, however, and for the most part you won’t find yourself drifting off.

The book sets up characters that are, largely, multidimensional, in a world where basically anything can happen next. I’m intrigued to see where the sequel (publishing in September 2017) goes from here, hopefully the scope of the world in which these characters live can expand somewhat, James mentions countries other than England with alternative alternative histories which could be fascinating to explore.

If I had to critique this – and I do, I’m reviewing it after all. I would say that there are times when the romance feels a little forced. But I am the harshest critic of romance in any kind of novel so I may be reading too much into it. It may be that these strands develop in the later books, as of yet no love triangles, squares, trapezoids or any other shapes – is the YA publishing world finally learning?

So would I recommend this? If you’re interested in a fairly novel approach to magic in a world which shows promise I would definitely give it a go. Maybe wait until the sequel publishes so we can see if it’s headed upwards or downwards? For now it would seem that Vic James is as Skilled as some of her characters, lets hope her morals are slightly more intact?

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