The Power of Namina Forna’s ‘The Gilded Ones’

If you’re into African fantasy, say “Aye!”

It’s the Ritual of Purity and sixteen-year-old Deka is nervous, anxious, and excited about this monumental ceremony where girls her age are to have their purity tested. Being proven to be pure means being eligible to be married and have a family.

Something else takes place on this day, the arrival of the deathshrieks and the discovery of who Deka is. This is followed by torture beyond her imagination, as well as watching the people she loves turn against her because of who and what she is. Discovering her state as an “alaki”, an impure creature, unwanted by all “normal” people has implications that she herself does not understand. After being recruited to kill the deathshrieks, the road leads to finding herself, discovering her strength and her power.

When I started reading it I got Children of Blood and Bone vibes, and the deathshrieks reminded me of the dementors in Harry Potter. Reading on, I found that The Gilded Ones is its own story, there are no wizards here but some powerful girls and women who are going to rewrite history.

I love the feminist theme in this book. Girls and women are taught that their significance is to serve men. The story brings patriarchal ideas to the fore, breaks them down, and challenges them. We see, for example, the way patriarchal values are knit into religious practices as a way to control and subdue girls and women.

I absolutely loved the way the girls realise their power and the taking back of the power that was taken away from them by the men who wrote history for their own agendas. Another important element in this book is the power of friendships, sisterhood to be precise. Other important themes in the story are misogyny, xenophobia, child soldiers, and trauma.

The only thing I would criticize is the pace. The story drags for over two hundred pages, and you have to have the patience to get there. Ahead though, lies adventure and excitement, as well as a satisfying end.  

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Autodidact & Bibliophile

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