Proceed With Caution:
This book contains very graphic, disturbing violence, torture, death, mentions of rape, and lots of blood.
The Gilded Ones is the start of a new YA Fantasy series about a girl named Deka who has always been on the outside of her village. After the purity ritual proves that she's a demon, she's put to death. Except that Deka can't die, and is ultimately recruited into the emperor's army with more girls just like her.
The Gilded Ones was something else. And I mean that in a mostly good way. It was not what I was expecting at all. The first few chapters are disturbing. Deka is constantly reciting passages from the Infinite Wisdoms which is this world's sacred text, and it basically says that if her blood runs gold she's impure and must be put to death. She's understandably very worried about this, and rightfully so, since as we know, her blood is gold. Upon this discovery, she is killed NINE TIMES and dismembered countless times so the priests can sell her blood. I was shocked.
I was surprised that The Gilded Ones actually goes there. The author did not shy away from what Deka's village does to her after confirming that her blood is gold rather than red. They don't just say she must die. They actually kill her in a variety of ways to find her "final death." Surprise, she doesn't have one! Which made it that much more disturbing, because they just keep trying. Even after she's "rescued" and taken to the training grounds, the girls aren't treated like human soldiers. It's pretty sickening to read at times. If you're sensitive to this kind of thing, perhaps skip this book.
The Gilded Ones has a pretty involved and interesting plot. Deka and other girls who have been labeled as impure for their golden blood are being trained to kill Deathshrieks, monsters who kill humans. Deka is part of a special regiment since she has more abilities than is usual, but of course it's not quite what it seems. The more Deka trains and the more she skills, the more she realizes that things just don't add up. Are Deathshrieks actually the monsters here? Is Deka actually a demon? What is even going on?! I had to know the truth, which slowly builds up.
The world-building of The Gilded Ones was weak though which kept me from loving it. While we get plenty of verses from the Infinite Wisdoms, we don't really get much else. We know that the area is split into four (North, South, East, and West of course) and who lives where, but not what anything looks like. It was all very generic with the pale blond people in the North where it's cold, the dark people in the South where it's hot, more white people in the West, and possibly Asian-like people in the East. Everyone hates Deka because she's a dark person in the North, and someone actually calls her skin dirty. This is just lazy world-building.
Overall, I did enjoy The Gilded Ones. It was much heavier than I anticipated but it had a pretty cool premise and plot. The ending is wrapped up quite nicely, but still open enough for there to be more books. I'll definitely be continuing to see what comes next for Deka and the other girls.