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Book: “Gilded” by Marissa Meyer
Publishing Info: Feiwel and Friends, November 2021
Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+
Book Description: 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.
Review: We read “Cinder” for bookclub many (many) years ago, and I remember enjoying it for the most part. Which is why I bewilder myself that I haven’t read any of the rest of the books in that series or by this author! She writes creative fairytale retellings (some times even including science fiction angles!) for heaven’s sake! That sounds right up my alley! Whatever the case, I did request an e-galley of this book back in 2021 when it came out….and again failed to prioritize it. But when I saw that the second one was coming out this fall, I finally decided that enough was enough, so here we finally, finally are.
Serilda is a story-teller at heart, spending her days spinning wonderous tales of magic and danger. Most of the time, however, this propensity for tall-tales is only appreciated by the village children. Indeed, most others see the mysterious wheels of color that mark her eyes and see nothing but trouble, a young woman touched by a god known for lies. Soon enough, however, magic seems to escape from the world of words and Serilda finds herself caught up in a tall tale herself, forced to spin straw into gold (a skill she foolishly claimed during one of her stories) for a cruel Fae king. Luckily for her, she meets a strange young man who does in fact have this skill. But what will he ask for in return?
I have to say, discovering that you’ve been missing out on something awesome has to be one of the few times where you’re almost rewarded for your own delay. I mean, I loved this book and I had the second book already primed and ready to go and got to merrily skip out on the year-long wait that other fans had to put up with! But it also means I’ve just been missing good books for years. I’ll definitely be checking out those other “Cinder” books now, that’s for sure.
This book was a solid fairy-tale retelling, meeting all of the requirements I look for in this sort of book. The plot hits all the major markers that readers are familiar with from the original “Rumpelstiltskin,” but other than these basic points, the world, characters, and story all feel fresh and unique. Obviously, the biggest change is that Gild himself is not the villain but the love interest. This is definitely an example of a “less is more” romance, and I appreciated that the author didn’t abandon her premise to give more page time to this character or the romance in general. Indeed, it proves just how well-written Gild was that I was fully invested in his story and the romance between him and Serilda given we only see him briefly here and there, broken up by large sections of the story that follow only Serilda.
But this choice is even neatly referenced by Serilda herself at times, noting that this is her story and not Gild’s. While the mystery surrounding him and his ability to spin gold is at the heart of much of the story, Serilda’s own motivations and priorities are what drives things: her love for her father, a mother she lost to magic years ago, and to the young children she tells stories to in her village. She was an excellent character in that you can see her making choices that you, as the reader, know will lead to mischief and sorrow, but they also feel true to the character she is. She also never shies away from the fallout of her own decisions, good and bad. She’s an incredibly strong and brave character, and, at times, laugh out loud funny.
But the story was also much darker than I was expecting. The Erkling was a terrifyingly cruel character, his presence seeming to leak off the page and let you viscerally feel the fear that everyone experiences when around him. There were several moments in the story where it felt like the author was going in a certain direction and I thought “oh, she won’t follow through on that, there will be a way out.” Nope! This had all the darkness and grim horror that is often found in classic fairytales where innocence is not a magical shield that protects characters from bad outcomes.
I loved this book. For all that it had dark, sob-worthy moments, I also found the dialogue and inner monologue to be clever and witty, giving the reader a nice reprieve from too much gloom. It does end on a pretty massive cliff hanger, but luckily for me (and anyone else who hasn’t read it yet) the second book in the duology is coming out this month, so there’s not much of a wait there. I definitely recommend this for fairy-tale fantasy readers. It might also fall into the rare “new adult” fantasy genre.
Rating 9: Sooooo good! An excellent fairytale retelling that takes a familiar story and character and remakes them into something entirely new and fresh.