Gilded Cage (Dark Gifts #1) by Vic James
The Gilded Cage is an unusual and interesting story. Set in an alternative UK the story revolves around one particular family as they embark on a period of enforced slavery. I must admit that I have mixed feelings with this book. It was certainly fast paced and actually made for quite addictive reading but I felt like the world building needed something more.
The story starts with our main family, the Hadleys, as their life is about to completely change. The Hadleys are about to start their ‘slavedays’. Every commoner in the UK, or, more to the point, every person not born with ‘skill’, must serve a compulsory ten year period of slavery. The world here is split into those without magical ability and those with. Let’s call them the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’. The former being the aristocracy, landed gentry living lives of privilege on huge country estates whilst the latter are the commoners who undertake all the hard work within society. In this particular instance the Hadleys have undertaken to go to into this period of their lives as a whole family. Unfortunately, their plan to be located as a whole unit working on the Jardine’s country estate doesn’t go quite according to plan and although the mother, father, and two daughters are placed as planned the son, Luke, is torn from the family and placed in one of the factory towns up North.
We then predominantly follow Luke as he becomes familiar with his new and brutal surroundings and then switch to his sister Abi as she tries to plan for a way to get Luke back with the family whilst finding herself in the strange predicament of finding herself becoming attracted to one member of the family she now serves.
So, to the characters. My favourite storyline was Luke’s. Located in a town called Millmoor this is a grim place. The people work long and miserable hours and are barely fed enough to sustain them – obviously just one of many ways to keep them downtrodden and too tired to fight back. This doesn’t stop underlying rumblings and an underground movement with rebellion at it’s core and Luke fairly quickly becomes embroiled with this group. Meanwhile, Luke’s sister Abi is helping to run the Jardine’s office. She’s an intelligent young woman and fairly quickly finds her feet. Unfortunately she finds herself attracted to the middle son of the family, Jenner. Jenner is an anomaly in the world of Equals, born without skill he’s something of an embarrassment to the family. His older brother and heir is a particularly vindictive piece of work with a short fuse – Gavar. Rumours circulate the estate about how he murdered a former maid and the mother of his child. The younger brother, Silyen, is the one to watch. He’s incredibly powerful in terms of his own skill and seems to have his own agenda which hasn’t yet been made clear. The Equals have their own problems of infighting and back stabbing. There’s plenty of jostling for position and families seeking beneficial matches to increase their own status.
The plot, well there are two threads running through the story. Obviously the underground rebellion movement being spearheaded at Millmoor and then the political struggles taking place in the world of the Equals. Alongside this are a couple of twists, one concerning the younger Jardine and the other focusing on Luke’s own role. I won’t go into either as they will contain spoilers.
The world building. Set in a modern day world this is an alternative UK where history split from the one we currently live in many years ago. It’s a bit of a strange world to come to grips with and this is an area that I struggled with a little. The period just has a jumbled feel somehow. The factory towns feel like they’re straight out of the Industrial Revolution era. They have a Dickensian type feel. Poor housing, poor food, long hours, harsh wardens. The Jardine’s family home is like Downton Abbey, except that whilst one of the sons rides around the estate on horseback his brother chooses motorbikes as his favourite mode of transport. It feels like the book is conflicted a little with its own time period somehow – it’s not as far advanced in technological terms as our own, and yet it does benefit from some modern day advances.
The story does takes a good look at class division and exploitation and I thought that was a very thought provoking element that has kept me thinking for days after I put the book down. However, this brings me to the real issue I had which revolved around the slavery aspect and the whys and wherefores of how it all works. The idea puts me loosely in mind of conscription but much more severe – everyone serving a 10 year period of enforced slavery but there was very little detail in relation to this aspect and I guess you’re just expected to go with the flow and not focus on the finer detail. The thing is I just can’t help myself from wanting that little bit of extra detail. Such as, why were people allowed to volunteer at whatever age they liked. How is it feasible for a whole family to go together – what happens to their home, how do they resume life when their slavedays are over. How is the whole thing even monitored – what happens if you don’t volunteer, why wouldn’t you simply leave your volunteering days until your twilight years?? Look, I’m not suggesting that we have a full essay on the economics of dystopian society, nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition after all, but just a few lines here and there. As it is I didn’t really get the idea that people had any real qualms about going into their slavedays, and whilst some of this is explained away I do find it difficult to believe that everyone in the country is unaware of the horror that takes place during this period of their life.
On the whole this was an intriguing story that kept me entertained. I did have niggles, which primarily revolved around me wanting more information, but I can understand that this would have made the book a lot slower in pace and therefore not to everyone’s liking.
I received a copy courtesy of the publisher through Netgalley for which my thanks. The above is my own opinion.