The Gilded Ones
A sweeping, epic fantasy, equal parts dark and hopeful.
Deka is trapped in the patriarchal society of Otera, where young women forced to wear masks and spend their lives at home are the 'lucky' ones. Other young women, girls like Deka, are deemed impure when their blood runs gold and subjected to the Death Mandate.
But when Deka's Alaki blood is discovered, she is given a third option: train as a solider, fight against the fearsome deathshrieks, and earn absolution. But life as a solider isn't all it seems, and when everyone around her seems to be keeping secrets - about the purpose of the Alaki soldiers and Deka's own unique abilities - Deka is unsure who she can trust.
The Gilded Ones hurtles towards what seems like a heartbreakingly inevitable conclusion, but twists and surprises ensure the overarching message is one of hope: change is possible, so long as there are people willing to fight for it.
Deka is equal parts strong and soft, capable of fighting for herself and those she loves, but also filled with terrible self-doubt and insecurities. She is a warrior born from circumstance and is incredibly relatable.
All of the characters in this novel were brilliant. Everyone had a purpose, a convincing backstory and an agency beyond their usefulness to Deka. The friendships Deka forms are one of the highlights of The Gilded Ones, and there are some really beautiful quotes about the importance of friendship throughout.
Otera has a complex and vivid backstory which helps to bring the world Deka inhabits to life. Forna says in her author's note at the end that she set out to write about how patriarchal societies are formed, and she certain does that in The Golden Ones. It is equal parts terrifying and enthralling, but the ending, at least, is filled with hope.