According to the US Census, millennials now outnumber baby boomers in the United States, a fact that poses a few interesting questions about the future of politics. The older population can largely be credited with voting in the current administration, but it’s the younger generations who will live with the consequences. It certainly appears that political awareness among the youth is growing, as protests and other forms of activism make headlines nationwide. Perhaps you’ll see why I’d suggest that there is no better time for a book like Vic James’ debut Gilded Cage to come along. A YA-friendly genre novel that became a sensation on the storytelling community Wattpad and drew the attention of a major publisher, it is a tale of revolution, politics, and right versus might that feels incredibly relevant right now—no matter your personal values.
Gilded Cage is set in an alternate Britain in which slavery remains the norm. But here’s the fantasy wrinkle: the conditions of slavery are based on who has magic, and who doesn’t. The aristocratic class, the so-called Equals, are literally born into their power. Mundane regular citizens, with no magical abilities, are required to spend 10 years of their lives living as slaves to the Equals, the twist being that they can choose when to serve—do it when you’re young and lose years of your prime, but enjoy an easier life afterward; wait until you’re older and risk dying in bondage. Though the history of the law is explained, the justification for the 10-year term remains elusive; nevertheless, the story turns on revolution, as the downtrodden masses finally decide to fight back.
It begins with two families—one Equal and one common. The Jardines are the most powerful family in England, but they are also unusual—while one son is more gifted than almost any Equal who has ever lived, the other is completely without power, an anomaly in this world. Abi Hadley is the oldest daughter of a common family that has decided to take their 10-year slave term as a group. They’ve managed to get themselves assigned to a plum post in service to the Jardines—except for Luke, save for Abi’s brother, who ends up assigned to the slave colony of Millmoor.
Abi learns very quickly that working for Equals isn’t the dream she thought it would be, as she’s dropped into the middle of family squabbles and political turmoil, both with deadly consequences. Meanwhile, Luke discovers that even a slave can spark a fire that can burn the whole world. While the premise is unique, James’ addictive storytelling echoes the strongest qualities of a few of the political YA series of recent years—The Hunger Games and Divergent in particular. It’s the start of an interesting new series, one with an all-ages appeal that would make it a great choice for a family book club as we enter an era where political discussion becomes a household norm.
Gilded Cage is available now.