Series: Gilded #1
Age Category: Young Adult
Published: November 2, 2021
Long ago cursed by the god of lies, a poor miller’s daughter has developed a talent for spinning stories that are fantastical and spellbinding and entirely untrue.
Or so everyone believes.
When one of Serilda’s outlandish tales draws the attention of the sinister Erlking and his undead hunters, she finds herself swept away into a grim world where ghouls and phantoms prowl the earth and hollow-eyed ravens track her every move. The king orders Serilda to complete the impossible task of spinning straw into gold, or be killed for telling falsehoods. In her desperation, Serilda unwittingly summons a mysterious boy to her aid. He agrees to help her . . . for a price.
Soon Serilda realizes that there is more than one secret hidden in the castle walls, including an ancient curse that must be broken if she hopes to end the tyranny of the king and his wild hunt forever.
Gilded is an entrancing, original take on “Rumpelstiltskin” that had me glued to the pages, much like Meyer’s previous books – though I think Gilded has the added benefit of being less predictable than some of Meyer’s earlier work. I was easily drawn into the world where dangerous magic creatures walk, yet many humans refuse to believe in them, and where the protagonist finds herself embroiled in their plots with no clear way out.
Serilda is an intriguing protagonist in that the reader might argue her decisions don’t always seem like the best, but one can see where she’s coming from and why she made those decisions at the time. It’s the perfect blend of showing that humans don’t always have all the information and they aren’t always right, but they’re doing what they can. It adds to the sense that while she tries hard to be clever and to keep herself and her family safe, she also feels as if the supernatural beings she is sparring with are always ahead of her, trapping her into a situation she needs to get out of. I liked her spunk and her innovation and her love for her village, even when her village doesn’t have a lot of love for her.
The world building feels original, even when it clearly draws on inspiration from things like the Wild Hunt, and I enjoyed the mix of the book feeling a bit like high fantasy, a bit like folklore, and a bit like mythology. There’s also a nice variety of settings, from the little village to a homey inn to a spooky castle.
I was somewhat puzzled by the fact that this book should have felt very dark – there’s violence, ghosts, a lot of deaths, etc. – and yet it never really did. It didn’t drag me down into its moodiness and darkness like other YA books I’ve recently read, like Into the Bloodred Woods. This isn’t necessarily a “bad” thing or a “good” thing about the book (it may depend on your mood and what you’re looking for), but I have been pondering this for a while trying to parse out why it didn’t feel dark when objectively it is dark.
I also (incorrectly) thought this book was a standalone, when it very much is not. I’m intrigued because I am really not sure where the story is going from here – a lot is wrapped up, while other things are not, and some wild twists were introduced at the end. This is clearly one of those “retellings” where the first book starts out as a retelling, and the rest of the series is just original fantasy. It’s fine. I’m just unable to predict where the story arc is going and how it’s all going to fill a whole second book, but that’s exciting since my one critique of Meyer has always been that her plots are predictable.
Definitely check this one out if you like YA fantasy and loose fairy tale retellings.