Antonia's Antics · Everything & Anything

The Gilded King by Josie Jaffrey

Summary: In the Blue, the world’s last city, all is not well.

Julia is stuck within its walls. She serves the nobility from a distance until she meets Lucas, a boy who believes in fairytales that Julia’s world can’t accommodate. The Blue is her prison, not her castle, and she’d escape into the trees if she didn’t know that contamination and death awaited humanity outside.

But not everyone in the Blue is human, and not everyone can be contained.

Beyond the city’s boundaries, in the wild forests of the Red, Cameron has precious little humanity left to lose. As he searches for a lost queen, he finds an enemy rising that he thought long dead. An enemy that the humans have forgotten how to fight.

One way or another, the walls of the Blue are coming down. The only question is what side you’ll be on when they do.

Review: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest review. I’m so glad she reached out to us about it; this book (and the prequel series Solis Invicti) hadn’t been on my radar yet and I’m so excited about them.
The Gilded King is the first book in Jaffrey’s Sovereign series. One thought I had throughout this book was that I really wished I’d read the Solis Invicti series first. The Sovereign series is meant to be standalone but I had so many questions about the history of this world and the way everything worked. Usually I like when world-building is added gradually to a story. I hate when a book starts with a giant chunk to explain the basics of that world to you. It’s frequently tedious and boring. With this book though, those details were added too slowly; I didn’t understand important details about this world until very late in the book. This just left me feeling confused for a lot of it and I kept going back and rereading sections to try to understand.
That being said, once I understood the world better I really enjoyed how unique it was. We’ve all seen enough dystopians that start with terrible plagues and vaccines that have unforeseen consequences but I thought the twist with the paranormal added a lot to it. The fact that the cure for the humans made their blood poisonous to vampires was something I wouldn’t have expected.
Another thing I thought was unique (at least from books I’ve read personally) was that humans have essentially become a slave race in certain parts of the world. There are still human settlements but in places where the Nobles (also called the Silver, depending on who’s talking) live, humans are treated like dirt. They’re called Servants but they have no rights. They’re not paid for their services and they have no choice in what they do. When Julia’s sent to serve Lucas, she’s going so he can drink her blood and she’s not allowed to say no. If they do, they’re exiled from the city which, as far as they know, is a death sentence.
I liked Julia for the most part. She was tough and intelligent. I liked that she questioned what the Nobles told the humans. One of the biggest problems for the humans living in the Blue was that the only information they’ve been given for centuries has been what the Nobles wanted them to think. Julia doesn’t always ask the right questions but at least she keeps asking them. The only thing I didn’t like about Julia was her behavior where Lucas was involved.
Lucas was a good character. He’s sweet, considerate, and tries to be true to himself even if it goes against the way Nobles are supposed to act. I was mildly annoyed that Julia happens to meet the only Noble who’s kind to humans; it’s a trope I’m a little sick of. When you have an entire race of people it’s not logical to think only one of them is morally good.
My main problem with Julia and Lucas though is their romance. First of all, it happens too quickly. Julia’s terrified of Nobles but is instantly attracted to Lucas and vice versa. Their relationship makes the mistake so common in YA, in that it progresses at an unrealistic rate. I also felt that I was being told-not-shown, if that makes sense. For most of the book, the romances (I’ll talk about Cameron and Felix later) felt very forced. I was not emotionally invested in these relationships.
Cameron was a really interesting character. He’s a member of the Solis Invicti, basically the guards of the Blue. For centuries he’s been exploring the Red (anything outside the Blue) looking for the lost queen, his friend Emmy. I found myself sympathizing with him quite a bit. No matter how long it’s been, he never gives up on Emmy or stops looking for her even when everyone else has. I’ve seen other reviews from people saying they were bored during Cameron’s parts but I didn’t have that problem at all. He was my favorite character so far.
I liked Felix for the most part. Seeing the difference between humans of the Blue and humans of the Red was really interesting. His attitude is bitter and resigned because he understands more about this world than others, like Julia. I particularly enjoyed seeing the contrast between them. He was also so mysterious that I just wanted to know more. His relationship with Cameron was also more believable, at least after the beginning. There was a sudden twist at the end about Felix (no spoilers, I swear) that I was extremely frustrated about. It just seemed so unnecessary.
Now to the part I loved: the plot. It was surprisingly intricate for the genre. There were times when I brushed something off as irrelevant or unimportant then it would suddenly tie into something later. It was also really cool watching Julia and Cameron’s opposite journeys. They never meet in this book and a lot of what happens to one sort of parallels the other but they almost always have one-half of certain information and the other has the rest. By the end I was screaming “If they could just have a conversation then everything would be okay”. It was infuriating but in a good way. I always like when I know more than the characters do. The ending also left me with so many questions half answered. It feels like this first book was just an opening for the second; it set the scene for all the craziness that’s going to happen next.
I wasn’t sure how much I liked this book and I definitely had some problems with it, but the ending made me really excited for the rest of the series. I think I’ll read the Solis Invicti series before the next book comes out and hopefully that will solve some of my confusion.
I’d recommend this book to anyone who likes YA, paranormal, or dystopian, though if you’re a reader who doesn’t like being left with tons of questions, this might not be the book for you. Thanks for reading!
-Antonia

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