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Gilded Cage
by Vic James
Del Rey, $20.00, 354 pages
Published: February 2017

This is a nice debut book. Abigail and her brother, Luke, live in a contemporary world that is split into two classes:  the Skilled and everyone else. Being Skilled is having incomprehensible powers, ruling the unskilled and generally being arrogant.  There had been a point in history when the Skilled rose up and deposed the ruling government, taking over the country – this being Britain.  They then imposed a slave class upon the rest of the populace…in a fashion.  Every citizen is required to serve ten years of their life as a slave.  They have only the choice of when.  There is a reward at the end of the service – if they survive – of having a higher status in society.  Abigail’s and Luke’s parents have decided that their whole family will serve together; that includes their little sister, Daisy, who just turned ten.  Ten years of age being the youngest that can serve, while accompanied by parents.  Abigail has a plan:  she has negotiated that her whole family will serve on one of the enormous Skilled estates rather than the dangerous drudgery of the industrialized city of Millmoor.  They will live in the lap of luxury and only be expected to serve the Skilled family; escaping the horrors of Millmoor.  Abigail is ignorant of the horrors and dangers hiding behind good manners and expensive clothes.  But her plan falls apart when the Skilled family decides they have no use for a teenaged boy so Luke is brutally separated and sent to Millmoor. And Luke has to negotiate the pitfalls of Millmoor alone, until he meets a young girl who teaches him about rebellion.

The Skilled family that Abigail now lives with is the other half of the equation of this story.  The Kynestons include the eldest son, Gavar, the middle son Jenner, and the youngest, Silyen.  Gavar has a baby daughter upon whom he dotes, but whose mother died under suspicious circumstances; she was not Skilled.  Jenner is an anomaly: he has no Skill.  And Silyen has a terrifying amount of Skill.  Among themselves, they address each other as Equals but jockey all the time for more power.  Daisy is given the responsibility of caring for little Libby and creates an unanticipated bond with Gavar.  Abigail is irresistibly drawn to Jenner, who appears to return her affections.  But any relationship with a Skilled brings a high degree of danger and risk.  And everyone on the estate is subject to Silyen’s permission to leave as he is the only one who can open the gates.  Within the house also lives their Aunt Euterpe who lies in a coma as she has for twenty years.  Silyen is the only one who can communicate with her and he is interested in brokering a deal with Euterpe’s old lover and the highest authority in the country, Chancellor Zelston – to restore Euterpe to consciousness.  His price:  the end of Equal privilege.

In Millmoor, Luke falls into bad company – people who believe Slavedays should be abolished and are determined to find a way to do so.  While the risks are unbelievably high, his youth practically guarantees that he will see himself as a hero and win the love of the gorgeous woman.

I had greatly anticipated this book, having read an excerpt last year.  It fell a bit a short for me.  It is well-written but the plot is too predictable and the characters are one-dimensional.  I did not find a character with whom I could connect.  And there are plot-holes into which an elephant could fall. The story is designed for sequels as it leaves us with a cliff-hanger so the author has an opportunity to hone her craft, and I really hope she does.  I’ll be watching for the sequel with some curiosity; I think this author has a lot of potential.   ~~ Catherine Book

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