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. Love isn’t meant to be part of the bargain.
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.
I received a copy of this book for review & can confirm all thoughts and opinions are my own.
I’m a huge Marissa Meyer fan so had high expectations going into this, and though there were a few things about it I didn’t love, overall I adored this story. Serilda has been told she is unlucky her whole life, never really fitting into the town she lives in, not helped by the fact she tells the most outlandish tales about princesses and monsters. But one fateful full moon changes her destiny forever. After catching the eye of the Erlking with her tale of spinning straw into gold, she is dragged into his world of magic and curses. Given the night to do the impossible, Serilda is sure her death in imminent, that is until a boy shows up willing to take on her task for a price. The more time Serilda spends with the boy, and in the castle, the more she realises there is something else, something dark happening and she will have to unravel a mystery centuries old if she and the boy she loves are to make it out alive.
Serilda was such a fantastic POV to read from, and easily one of the most realistic ‘teen/young adult’ I’ve ever read. She has this belief that nothing can harm her, this invulnerability that we loose as we reach adulthood and, as she grows both in age and in character she starts to realise that she is in fact extremely vulnerable. She’s a little mischievous, constantly battling against the hand that fate has dealt her. She so wants to be seen as normal, but she loves telling her stories too much to truly give it up and I really enjoyed her coming to realise that the two parts of her can live side by side. She is a little flighty in parts, and her inability to see what was right in front of her eyes did get on my nerves a little, but as I stated before, she’s written as a girl entering her womanhood, so understandably her eye will get turned by the ‘cute’ boy and she will struggle to look past that.
Meyer also introduces us to a whole host of side characters all of which play an important role in furthering Serilda’s journey be it emotional, character growth or in simply continuing the story. My favourites by far were the children Serilda taught in her village, each had their own vivid personality that jumped off the page and I loved their innocence and fearlessness at hearing Serilda’s stories. And then there’s Gild, the boy that helps Serilda in the castle, there is a hint of mystery surrounding him, not least because he has no idea who he is, or why he ended up tied to this castle. Throughout the story we are given clues to his true identity, and I will admit to guessing it pretty early on, but I did love following the characters as they worked it out themselves.
As with her other stories Meyer treats us to a well built and fleshed out magic system. She uses folklore, as well as adding in little bits of her own making to ensure it doesn’t stay to true to the original story. I really enjoyed the parts where we got swept away by Serilda’s story telling, sometimes about the old gods, sometimes about the Erkling or other magical creatures that inherit her world, but they all add to the overall magic and world building to create a world that I would certainly like to visit. Gilded starts dark and just gets darker with every page, and though there are parts of it that would fit quite easily into a horror novel, Meyer’s writing style adds a lightness to the story ensuring we never feel too bogged down in the darkness that surrounds the story.
I do feel like the pacing was a little off with this story. The first and last quarters of the book are brilliant, well paced, full of information and eureka moments. The middle 50% however I did felt dragged a little, after Serilda’s first night in the castle the story got a little too repetitive and I did find my attention waning in parts. Overall, Meyer creates a high stakes tale around whether Serilda will manage to escape the Erkling, plus the added mystery of the cursed Castle and Gild himself which, despite the pacing issues, made sure I stayed glued to the pages desperate to find out what happens. There is a romance arc for those who like a little love in their fantasy, I do feel it was a little too quickly formed, but again we have to realise this was written from the POV of a teenage girl, someone who has been shunned by the boys in her village for fear of her bad luck rubbing off on them, so her falling for the first boy to not be afraid of her isn’t that out there.
The last quarter of this book shook me! And although I did guess the main mystery, there were still parts that I did not see coming at all and ensured I will be eagerly anticipating the sequel. Filled with magic and mystery, a sweet romance and a brilliantly written main character, Meyer has easily got another hit series on her hands.