Gilded Cage

Vic James's Gilded Cage imagines an alternate version of England, in which the monarchy's power is derived from Skill (a magic inherent to those of noble birth). Social order requires every commoner to serve 10 years as a slave in his or her lifetime. Hoping to avoid the miserable conditions of the country's slave towns, the Hadley family arranges to spend their tenure serving on the estate of one of the most powerful ruling families in England. But they soon learn that even a "gilded cage" is a cage, and a lack of freedom is nothing to be taken lightly. Their circumstances get more complicated when their teenage son, Luke, is sent to serve his 10 years in a slave town instead of with his family. There he falls in with a group that makes him question everything he once thought reasonable about the concept of slave years.

Gilded Cage pushes the concept of inequality to its extremes. The upper classes are elitist and classist; they look down upon those without Skill in every way, shape and form. Meanwhile, slaves are mistreated, raped, beaten, poorly fed and otherwise suppressed. But within this black-and-white context of good and evil lies a surprisingly nuanced and captivating story of what it takes to fight for freedom and justice against a cruel and unfair system. Those seeking a neat and tidy conclusion will be disappointed, for Gilded Cage ends on a cliffhanger, perfectly setting James up to continue this promising fantasy series. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

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