Blog Tour: The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna | A raw, fiercely feminist YA fantasy filled with soul [Review]

Hello everyone, and also a very happy 2nd day of the Lunar New Year! Today, I’m here to persuade, convince and urge YOU to pick up this raw, fiercely feminist YA fantasy novel filled with SO. MUCH. SOUL, with my favourite quotes littered throughout. Thank you so much to TBR and Beyond Tours for organising this blog tour.

click on the banner to view the schedule and explore the other stops!

THE GILDED ONES by Namina Forna

Genre(s): Fantasy | Age Group: Young Adult
Series: Deathless #1

Published: 9 February 2021 | Read: 9 February 2021
No. of Pages: 432 (kindle)

Click here to view trigger warnings ▼ Grief, Death of a Loved One, Mention of Abuse, Beheading, Drowning, Torture, Blood Depiction, Sexism, Impaling, Mention of Rape, Whipping, Mutilation, PTSD, Child Abuse, Racism, Xenophobia, Colourism

Sixteen-year-old Deka lives in fear and anticipation of the blood ceremony that will determine whether she will become a member of her village. Already different from everyone else because of her unnatural intuition, Deka prays for red blood so she can finally feel like she belongs.

But on the day of the ceremony, her blood runs gold, the color of impurity–and Deka knows she will face a consequence worse than death.

Then a mysterious woman comes to her with a choice: stay in the village and submit to her fate, or leave to fight for the emperor in an army of girls just like her. They are called alaki–near-immortals with rare gifts. And they are the only ones who can stop the empire’s greatest threat.

Knowing the dangers that lie ahead yet yearning for acceptance, Deka decides to leave the only life she’s ever known. But as she journeys to the capital to train for the biggest battle of her life, she will discover that the great walled city holds many surprises. Nothing and no one are quite what they seem to be–not even Deka herself.

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Thank you to TBR and Beyond Tours, the publisher and NetGalley for an Advanced Reader Copy of this book in exchange for a sincere review.All the quotes used in this post are from an advance reader copy and may differ in the final publication.


The Gilded Ones takes place in a harshly patriarchal society, whereby girls are forced to undergo a ritual at the age of 15 to determine her purity. Red blood if she pure, and gold blood if she is of demonic descent, and these near-immortal demons, are tortured over and over again, and killed over and over again. To her horror, Deka’s blood runs golden and she is subjected to this suffering until a mysterious woman comes and recruits her to train with other alaki, other girls with that cursed gold blood with exceptional physical power, to form an army against deathshrieks, monsters who are the kingdom’s greatest threat.

The Gilded Ones was so rich in tropes and themes and thus I will structure my thoughts based on them.

“The way I see it, we all have a choice right now. Are we girls, or are we demons? Are we going to die, or are we going to survive?”

First off, we have the strong, badass YA female lead with more to her than she realises. We are all definitely not foreign to these kind of powerful girls, and are so familiar with them to the extent of many books utilising them ending up as cliche in our eyes. Admittedly, Deka does fit right into this trope but her character arc through the book was simply breathtaking. From a girl fervent in her religion, only desiring to be pure and nothing else, to one who grows into the community of alaki around her, and finally accepting and taking pride in her identity, again, it does sound cliche but its execution was anything but.

This is where the theme of pain comes in. Deka has been through intense physical abuse, dying nine times through various methods, and her character suffered too from the derision of her identity as a demon and as a woman. Tragic past trope double check. However, The Gilded Ones portrays how much this past haunts and influences her subconsciously, and how her pain shapes the person she becomes. Rawly executed, brimming with emotions through the hard-hitting and chilling narrative, I was convinced to the point of being moved by Deka’s journey spurred by pain.

“First lesson, neophytes: alaki do not yield. You conquer or you die.”

Yes there was pain, but isn’t it a core trait of most literary found families whom we hold dear to our hearts? The Gilded Ones was no different with the heartfelt kinship between all the alaki (the girls with demonic blood). Despite the divide, most entering with some sort of past abuse and suffering, how these bloodsisters banded together in their common identity, were fiercely empathetic and loyal was incredibly empowering to read about. These ferocious fighters who believed in themselves and each other and were such a collective force to be reckoned with made The Gilded Ones such a compelling and emotional read for me.

”Blessed are the meek and subservient, the humble and true daughters of man, for they are unsullied in the face of the Infinite Father.”

Their unity was made significant mostly because of the central theme of discrimination and misogyny throughout The Gilded Ones. Women have to wear half-masks, be accompanied by male guardians wherever they go, either be brutally killed if deemed impure or just as housewifes if their blood flowed red. This was to the extent of it being embedded in the religion, with a religious text known as the Infinite Wisdom often being referenced to, in order to legitimise the obvious misogyny as well as atrocities done to girls deemed demons. Not only was this prejudice so explicitly weaved into the setting, it was evident through Deka herself and her actions. Her behaviour in the presence of men even outside of the village, her thoughts portraying her astonishment when seeing women empowered, kept reminding readers of her upbringing and kept that theme of discrimination hang heavily in the air.

Yet, these women finally seeing themselves without any biases, proving themselves and holding their own destinies in their hands was incredibly empowering to read about and I give Namina Forna a standing ovation for this fiercely feminist novel.

“I’m your uruni, now until the day of our deaths.”

So far, all the tropes and themes mentioned have truly carved a place for themselves in my heart but we all know, no book is perfect and this one did have its downfall, being the romance. It is rather ironical that the cliche YA enemies to lovers trope failing to deliver has also become typical in itself. Important, softie love interest. Feels like it escalates over a few days. Unnecessary. To make matters worse, I felt that this book would have been improved without the romance at all for to me, the romance juxtaposed the feminist vibe in this book. With a central focus on women empowerment, I was hoping for it to show that strong, powerful women do not have to always fall in love, but alas Cupid decided to pay The Gilded Ones a visit.

Another issue I had with The Gilded Ones, would be the pacing. I did get the flow and severely addicted to the story but I felt that the narrative was inconsistent, skimming over a lot of bits and thus one day could feel the same as a few weeks which did hinder the development of the story.

“All this time, I’ve been afraid of my ability, when instead I should have been regarding it as a treasured weapon.”

The narrative may have been an issue, but the plot was most definitely not. It did include many familiar tropes such as “the chosen one”, the “not-everything-is-as-it-seems” trope and others but I thought with the great amount of foreshadowing as well as the element of mystery unravelling strand and strand and accelerating, they were executed rather satisfyingly.

Like a good tropey YA novel, the ending was spectacular and I was teetering between exuberant and intoxicated as the book alternated rapidly between intense action scenes, subversion of expectations and just moments where I would have to remind myself to breathe through swollen eyes.

Adding on, the world was incredible. It was packed with an intriguing magical system, with some rich history and lore, political intrigue at the end but most importantly with so many themes such as discrimination as mentioned above, I could draw so many parallels between it and our world today which is just terrifying given how brutal the kingdom is.

“No matter my origins, there is worth in what I am.”

The Gilded Ones managed to incorporate so many tropes like found family and the badass YA female lead, and themes such as those of discrimination and pain into this story of strength and empowerment of Deka, a young girl who goes through tremendous character and identity growth. A brilliant, brilliant, brilliant novel that you guys HAVE TO pick up soon.

rating // ★★★★½


Namina Forna is a young adult novelist based in Los Angeles, and the author of the upcoming epic fantasy YA novel The Gilded Ones. Originally from Sierra Leone, West Africa, she moved to the US when she was nine and has been traveling back and forth ever since. Namina has an MFA in film and TV production from USC School of Cinematic Arts and a BA from Spelman College. She works as a screenwriter in LA and loves telling stories with fierce female leads.

Website | Twitter | Instagram | Goodreads

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49 thoughts on “Blog Tour: The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna | A raw, fiercely feminist YA fantasy filled with soul [Review]

  1. Oh noooo that’s disappointing that the romance was the downfall because i usually don’t enjoy romance in books and I agree that that’s frustrating if it’s supposed to be a book about strong females. Ugh, why do authors always have to add romance into books!!! If it’s unneeded then it’s unneeded!
    I’m hoping that this is the book in the February Owlcrate box (all signs point to it being so) so hopefully I’ll get to read it soon! Glad that you enjoyed it!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes yes and YES to what you said!! Incredible books do have a tendency to be pulled down by an uncalled for romance 😦 and exactly, The Gilded Ones had such a great feminist vibe which was dampened by the romance… but other than that, The Gilded Ones was so empowering I hope that the book turns out to be it and you’ll love it just as much! Thank you Phoenix! 🥰

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah uuuugh I hate how authors always just feel almost, like, obligated to put romance in…I mean, maybe not obligated but there’s just so much romance in books and there doesn’t need to be! It’s oftentimes just a sub plot and…why??? it’s not necessary! I do hope that I enjoy the book when I get to it!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. ahh yes!! i’m so happy you enjoyed this as much as i did!! seeing all the girls supporting each other, definitely made me emo – because there were so many times they could have been fighting with each other – but i absolutely love that the author decided not to make them do so!! i also felt the narrative was a bit inconsistent?? and though i absolutely adored keita – i feel like they would have made good platonic friends as well!! completely agree on the enemies-to-lovers not working out this time!!

    also i adore the choices of quotes!! they’re so varied, and they give us such a fantastic taste of the book!! your review was also so beautifully written, and i’m very glad that you enjoyed this book!! i loved this post so much 💖💖

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ahaana thank you! Definitely, I’m grateful that the friendship between the girls was mostly supportive, the situation would have been even harder should they have fought! Ahh I’m glad to hear that you feel the same way about the narrative and Keita as well… The quotes from this book are brilliant, it makes me so happy to hear that! Thank you Ahaana!! 🥰

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Ahhhhh this was such a great book! I read it way back before the release date was pushed back and it makes me so happy to see all the positive hype surrounding this book. It truly deserves it! 🙌🏻

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This book was so good! I enjoyed the found families, the female friendships, the strength of Deka and feminist tropes, such beautiful and amazing factors that really elevated my enjoyment of the read.

    Another point about religion, I really love that it was highlighted on the religious figures who are tainting and ultimately weaponizing it for their own greed and self servant purposes. I really resonated with that.

    Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jawahir! Ah yes yes yes to all the elements you said, those tropes may seem ordinary but the execution was indeed so good!! So glad to hear that you resonated with that element of the book, truly the insidious way that religion was manipulated made quite the impact… thank you!! 💕

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Cherelle, you always write the most amazing reviews!! Seeing your thoughts on any particular book makes me so much more interested; I’m happy to see you rated this one so highly! I will totally be picking it up, and I’ve heard it is getting a film soon so that should be fun! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  6. AAAH CHERELLE, I love this post so much! You really captured how good this book is (if I hadn’t read it already, you definitely would’ve convinced me to pick it up!!). I actually just reread some parts of the book because I couldn’t get it out of my head, and changed my rating (higher, of course)! It’s just so good!

    Liked by 1 person

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