Today, I have the immense honour of celebrating The Gilded Ones on its UK publication date as part of the blog tour organised by Book Terminal Tours. On top of that, I got to interview the amazing Namina Forna, which is a huge privilege. Also, thank you to Usborne for sending me an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
Q & A:
Emily: Thank you so much for joining me on my blog today to celebrate The Gilded Ones. Could you possibly start by telling me a little bit about yourself?
Namina: First thing you should know, I’m from Sierra Leone, West Africa, born and raised. I came to the United States when I was nine. I lived in Georgia all through my teens and went to Spelman College, which is an all female HBCU, but moved to California for film school. I now live in Los Angeles, where I can be often found strolling to the local food truck in my unicorn onesie. I’m not kidding about this.
How would you describe The Gilded Ones in five words?
Golden. Emotional. Brutal. Inspiring. Fantastical.
What was your main inspiration?
Being a girl in this world. Growing up, I realized that I was treated in so many grossly unfair ways because I was female. I wanted to examine that, and that is how The Gilded Ones came about.
What was your biggest struggle with writing The Gilded Ones and what was your favourite part?
My biggest struggle was the emotion of it. A lot of the book is very heavy emotionally to write, and there were some parts I had to take a break and come back to. My favorite part, however, was creating the group dynamic: Here are a group of girls taking down monsters and fighting together. There’s gonna be a lot of jokes and fun as they go on their missions. There’s going to be a lot of violence too.
In many ways, the book is like a war movie, the camaraderie is interspersed by violence.
The Gilded Ones doesn’t hold back in its brutal depictions of war and violence, as well as the institutional racism and sexism which helps perpetuate the violence. Could you possibly talk about why you chose to show these complex themes?
These were the things I was thinking about when I was a teen. I grew up in Sierra Leone during its decade-long civil war. Violence has always been a part of my life and the lives of many, many people that I know. And even when you’re not in a war zone, the violence is always there. It’s part and parcel of being a woman, a factor of our daily life.
The moment you hit puberty and even before, your body is always policed, leered at, watched. And that’s the polite end of the spectrum. I was tired of it, frankly. So I chose to show the violence because the violence comes with being a girl, it comes with being black, it comes with not being whatever the dominant culture is. And that’s why it’s important to acknowledge.
Your work as a screenwriter definitely informs the cinematic feel and scope of the book; how did your experience help the creation of The Gilded Ones? What differences did you notice between the forms?
I’m definitely more trained as a screenwriter, so when I was writing the book, I subconsciously put screenwriting structure to it. I’d be like, oh, inciting incident has to happen by this page, and break into two by this page. Then my editors oh so gently tapped me and were like, “you have the space, Namina take your time.”
And that’s the big difference between film/tv and novels. With novels, you have more space to write, so you can take your time.
What’s a piece of advice you’d like to give to any aspiring authors reading this, particularly those who are underrepresented in the industry?
Join Twitter. You’ll find an entire community there, especially critique partners who can help you get your writing to the next level. Use the hashtags #amwriting, #amediting, try to get into competitions like #pitmad or #dvpit where your writing can reach actual agents. It’s a game changer.
Who would be your ideal cast for a film or TV adaptation of the The Gilded Ones?
I don’t actually have one, in that I think that Deka should be a fresh new face, and wouldn’t begin to know how to cast the others. I think Nicola Mary Coughlan from Bridgerton would be a perfect Britta though.
Which books inspire you as a writer?
So many! I love the Rumpole of the Bailey books by John Mortimer for their humor. The Infected books by Scott Sigler for their chills. The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton and the Elfhame books by Holly Black for their world building.
I could go on.
Finally, could you possibly give us a hint of what lies in store next for Deka?
Just kidding! But she does face greater foes and more dire threats. Does that help?
Well, if those insightful and amazing answers from Namina didn’t convince you that The Gilded Ones is a book that you need in your life, I’ll try my best to convince you with my review.
Sixteen-year-old Deka lives in fear and anticipation of the blood ceremony that will determine whether she will become a member of her village. Already different from everyone else because of her unnatural intuition, Deka prays for red blood so she can finally feel like she belongs.
But on the day of the ceremony, her blood runs gold, the color of impurity–and Deka knows she will face a consequence worse than death.
Then a mysterious woman comes to her with a choice: stay in the village and submit to her fate, or leave to fight for the emperor in an army of girls just like her. They are called alaki–near-immortals with rare gifts. And they are the only ones who can stop the empire’s greatest threat.
Knowing the dangers that lie ahead yet yearning for acceptance, Deka decides to leave the only life she’s ever known. But as she journeys to the capital to train for the biggest battle of her life, she will discover that the great walled city holds many surprises. Nothing and no one are quite what they seem to be–not even Deka herself.
TW: death, mutilation, violence, starvation, torture, disownment, loss of a parent, loss of a loved one, trauma, rape, paedophilia
The Gilded Ones is an empowering, feminist and rich YA fantasy unlike any other.
You are not ready for what Forna has in store for you.
It’s beautifully written but also steeped in so much blood and violence. Forna is unflinching in her graphic depiction of this twisted world. This is a violent, harrowing book that leaves an indelible mark upon your mind and keeps compelling you to turn the page and uncover the awful truth. I was worried about how much I was anticipating The Gilded Ones, but it not only lived up to my hyped expectations, it blew them away. Rarely have I seen such a vivid and well-imagined YA fantasy novel with an extremely compelling storylines and well-crafted characters to boot.
Forna builds such a detailed world, complete with intricate mythology and a complex history. I was utterly immersed in this blood-drenched world. There’s a brilliant discussion about the historical erasure of marginalised groups and women from their own narratives, manipulating them instead to suit the powerful in society and cement social order. It’s such a refreshing, original tale that incorporates elements often found in YA fantasy, but reimagines them through a new lens and perspective often excluded or relegated to the background of such books.
I really liked Deka as a protagonist, as she challenged every idea around her, while being smart and strong to boot. I really appreciated how she didn’t initially start like that, rather she was devout, meek and submissive, completely enmeshed in this extreme patriarchal society. Unlearning everything she’s been taught and learning to not dismiss her trauma due to the ‘evil’ within her is a slow, ongoing process. Eventually, she becomes a strong, capable badass warrior, however, she didn’t fall into the strong female character trope, as she was also emotional and vulnerable.
By delivering a complex, emotionally open protagonist, Forna further serves to inspire young women reading this story. Many will be able to see themselves in Deka and on that note, even this cover is just so impactful. When publishing used to obfuscate and actively exclude POC from covers, Deka stands proud and tall. Young Black and POC women deserve to see themselves in books just as much as anyone else, in a variety of roles and genres, but actively telling their own story and standing on their own two feet.
The Gilded Ones is a phenomenal fantasy novel that delves into some of the most horrific topics with a laser-focus and well-crafted backdrop. This imaginative storytelling, combined with three-dimensional, complex characters, makes it a clear stand-out.
About The Author:
Namina Forna is a young adult novelist based in Los Angeles, and the author of the upcoming epic fantasy YA novel The Gilded Ones. Originally from Sierra Leone, West Africa, she moved to the US when she was nine and has been traveling back and forth ever since. Namina loves telling stories with fierce female leads and works as a screenwriter in LA.
The Gilded Ones debuts February 9, 2021 in the US and February 4, 2021 in the UK.
Thank you again to Book Terminal Tours and Usborne for including me and sending me an early copy of this amazing book in exchange for an honest review, but particularly thank you to Namina for the interview. Please check out the other amazing posts on this blog tour.