Today is the Ritual of Purity. ~ Opening of Gilded Ones
Namina Forna's The Gilded Ones was just as good as I hoped it would be. It is the story of Deka, a sixteen year old, who must take part in a blood ceremony to determine if she is pure enough to become a full-fledged member of the village she grew up in or if she will be found as impure and suffer a fate worse than death itself. Deka has always known she is a bit different and not just because of her darker skin color, never feeling like she quite belonged. But if she is found pure, she knows that will ensure her a place in the village--marriage and children and respect.
On the day of the ceremony, however, her blood runs gold marking her as impure. Subjugated to unimaginable torture and abuse, Deka is saved when a mysterious woman comes to the village and offers her a choice. To stay and suffer her current fate or join the emperor's army of impure girls like herself, the alaki, near immortals. The idea of being able to find a place where she will be accepted and actually belong and to stop the cycle of death she's suffered at the hands of the village priests, Deka agrees. As Deka learns more about her special abilities and about her roots, she's also learning how to be an unbeatable soldier. The more she learns, the more her eyes are opened--and she begins to question all she's been taught to believe.
The world in which Deka lives is extremely patriarchal. Women are treated poorly and those who are deemed impure, whose gold blood and has special healing abilities, are enslaved, tortured and killed over and over. The world building in this novel is intricate and well thought out, from the various regions, native and magical creatures, and history of the land and its people. It is all so richly drawn.
Deka is just one of many characters in this novel who have been oppressed and treated terribly. I enjoyed reading about how their relationships evolved over time. There is some romance but even more so the strong bonds of friendship. Deka grows significantly over the course of the novel. Seeing her and the other young alaki come into their power and be empowered was thrilling to read, especially given where many of them came from and how they were treated.
I loved every minute of this West-African inspired fantasy novel. I can see this novel making a great book club pick. There are plenty of themes that would make for an interesting discussion. While the first half was a bit slower than the second, it was no less interesting. I heard a rumor The Gilded Ones will be made into a movie. I sure hope they do it justice. I cannot wait to see what Namina Forna brings us next.
Challenge Met: Spring COYER Challenge