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Not All Are Equal – Gilded Cage by Vic James

It seems like forever ago now when I stumbled across the name Vic James, or as Wattpadders know her ‘JayVictor’.

Having just joined Wattpad, Vic happened upon my freshly Featured short story The Fan, a commentary on the sometimes obsessive and unhealthy side of fandoms, and her name flashed up on my notifications feed.

By that point, I’d become slightly disillusioned with the concept of being a Featured writer on Wattpad, having lost the dizzy afterglow some weeks before, when readers descended upon the story in their thousands. My notifications had blown up and I was lost in a chaos of inane comments that left me feeling despondent and despairing that someone would actually provide some constructive feedback on the story itself, rather than tell me which fandom they belonged to, berate me for the character’s foul language (‘it’s limited vocabulary, don’t you know?’) or to tell me that ‘you spelt grey wrong. It’s G-R-A-Y. Spell things correctly, author!’

Then one day, Vic appeared, and I was surprised (and touched) to discover that not only was The Fan the first story she had chosen to read on Wattpad, but that she had zero interest in telling me which fandom she belonged to and actually had something meaningful to contribute. A spark of something constructive that revived my love for the story and gave me the gusto to dive back into the comments board and interact with my readers. After that, I saw Vic’s name crop up quite a bit on my newsfeed as she navigated her way through the site and I even added her story – back then known as Slavedays – to my extensive To-Read list.

Now, I’m going to be honest here.

Slavedays wasn’t top of my list in terms of priority reads.

I didn’t do dystopian. Dystopian had suddenly become one of those trendy genres and I usually like to avoid trendy fiction as much as I possibly can. Remember when Fifty Shades came out and then everyone was writing about millionaire (or even billionaire) CEO’s with a penchant for whips and red rooms? Or when Twilight became huge and everyone was writing about vampire-werewolf love triangles and imprinting wolves and completely forgot that vampires weren’t always sparkly? Hunger Games…. Divergent …. none of it really caught my attention and so, I tended to avoid anything dystopian. To me, dystopian fiction was like your Great Aunt Gertrude, the one you avoided at family gatherings because she liked to spit on a hankie and wipe your face clean while overpowering you with the stench of lavender and moth-balls.

Yeah, dystopian was my least-favourite Aunt.

But still… I liked Vic immensely, having met her at the very first London Wattpad convention (she asked me to attend) and I found myself wanting to read it, just as I often do when I like the author – call it a sense of author-loyalty, if you like. Plus, the book had picked up a lot of attention, winning a Watty Award in 2014 and I knew that I needed to get past my snobby dislike of trend and just read the blooming thing.

Alas (for me) by then, Vic and Slavedays had been signed up by PanMacmillan and the book was removed from Wattpad (the old cover and prologue is still there) and by the time I wanted to read it, I had to wait just like everyone else. Damn it.

But hey, isn’t it just GREAT when you can honestly say that something really was worth the wait??

With the newly-named Gilded Cage downloaded on my Kindle before Christmas (the paperback is out in the UK on 26th January), I finally managed to secure some read-time and settled down at the weekend to dive in, having only managed to find time to read a couple of chapters when it was first released on ebook.

Shockingly, I don’t read nearly as much as I used to, what with work, commuting, motherhood and writing now filling up my schedule but you can rest assured if I put the writing to one side to read – and by read, I mean CONSUME – then you KNOW it’s a bloody good book.

The story focuses on the fate of the Hadley’s, an average family torn apart when they are committed to doing their slavedays – 10 years of compulsory servitude to the Equals, the ruling aristocracy of the land, who rule because they are gifted with Skill, a magical power passed from generation to generation and which sets them apart from the commoners. In a cruel twist of fate, the Hadley’s (almost seventeen year old) son Luke is separated from his family and forced to undertake his slavedays at Milmoor, the grim, brutal industrial slave town, while his mum, dad and two sisters get to serve the infamous Jardines, one of the most powerful families of all the Equals.

At Milmoor, Luke learns quickly, trying to avoid the baton of the security guy Kessler who has taken an instant dislike to him, while also trying to make sure he isn’t crushed by the colossal machinery in the workhouse everyday. Back at Kyneston, the Jardine family estate, the rest of the Hadley’s have seemingly a better lot in life and are put to work serving the strange and powerful Equals.

We soon discover that life isn’t all that it seems in either Milmoor or Kyneston, and both Luke and his family, discover that adapting to their new lives brings more surprises and twists than they could ever have imagined.

The contrast between the grey, dirty almost Dickensian world of Milmoor and the sumptuous luxury of Kyneston couldn’t be more pronounced and I adored dipping back and forth between POV’s, creeping with Luke along the grimy back alleys of the slavetown and then wandering the halls of the Jardine’s stately home with Abi Hadley and her Equal masters. As usual, I am always envious of anyone who writes third person really well, as I really don’t, and Vic definitely nails her characters, giving us just enough tempting insight into each mind to leave us desperately wanting more. The narrative was compelling and I was torn throughout as the story led me through countless possibilities as to who I could trust and who I couldn’t and just when I thought I had it all worked out, I was right back to square one again.

Individual POV’s and plot lines are interwoven within the backdrop of political agenda, secrets and lies and civil unrest, all boiling within this huge cauldron of simmering tension that keeps you turning the page. Added into the mix is the mystery and wonder of the Equals Skill, awe-inspiring and, at times, quite terrifying to behold, in particular I thought, the power of the sinister Silyen Jardine (a particular favourite of mine) and the as yet unknown twisted intent of Lord Crovan (I can’t wait to find out more about him!).

It wasn’t until I reached the jaw-dropping end (and yes, its F-ing jaw-dropping) that I had to sit back and remind myself:

I DON’T DO DYSTOPIAN!!!!

Yet apparently now, I do. Who’d have thought it?

I’m not even going to lie. Gilded Cage rocked my world at the weekend and the truth is, I wasn’t expecting it to, despite the fact there’s been such an industry buzz about this book brewing for months now. Bloggers are talking about it. Industry experts are talking about it. Readers are loving it. I loved it.

If you want a book that’ll have you reeling for days, this is it.

If you’re like me and dystopian fiction is your Great-Aunt Gertrude, or Millicent, or Antonia, read this book. Seriously. Just read it.

If you’re already a big YA Fantasy fan and you’re looking for your next favourite read …well, you catch my drift already, I’m sure.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, this anti-dystopian reader is off to rage at Vic James on every social media account she has, to demand more words. OR ELSE.

FIVE BIG MAGICALLY SKILLED STARS!!!

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