What would Britain be like if Lord Voldemort had won the First and Second Wizarding Wars?
Gilded Cage might have the answer. Here, magic users and non-magic users are segregated, with the ‘Skilled’ section of society living it up in glittering mansions, and the rest scrabbling around the edges. And under an entirely magical political system, Muggle types are all required to submit to ten years’ worth of ‘slavedays’, which are exactly as grim as they sound.
Facing off against that grimness is the Hadley family. Once their youngest comes of age, the whole Hadley family head off into servitude together. But while both parents and daughters are sent to a posh estate to serve the aristocratic Jardines, teenaged son Luke is yanked away and made to work in a Dickensian nightmare factory.
Scarily, that might be the better deal: although the labour is backbreaking, Luke soon finds allies in a makeshift rebellion. Meanwhile, his sisters are subject to the whims of the Jardine heirs, and keeping them happy might be the most lethal work of all.
The scope of Vic James’s debut novel is staggering: in under 300 pages, she creates a sturdy alternate history with a carefully constructed political system. Comparisons to other Young Adult titles are easy to make – it’s a bit Harry Potter, a bit Hunger Games – but this, the first in the Dark Gifts series, is fascinating in its own right.
It’s smart, engrossing and incredibly snappily written, with so many compelling characters and pulse-quickening situations that the whole book just flies by. We apologise for the cliché, but it is that good. It keeps you gripped once the action picks up.
Really, its only flaw is that it’s so short. James clearly knows her world inside out, and it’s frustrating not to be able to explore further. Luckily, the second book is only about six months away. Get on it now before someone makes the movie, which in the current climate is sadly totally plausible soon.