The Gilded King (Sovereign: Book I)
The Gilded King was published on June 25th, 2018. The author provided me with a copy of the book, but all thoughts are my own.
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 escaped 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.
The Gilded King opens with many elements that support a well-built and gripping fantasy story: class structure, mystery, devotion, conflict, anticipation, and, you know, fantasy. This set-up is somewhat of a risk, because it can potentially be off-putting to readers who don’t like to be placed directly into a world they know nothing about.* However, Josie Jaffrey hits a pacing sweet spot that moves the story along at the perfect speed, allowing the reader to indulgently stay on track with what’s happening while effectively learning about the structure of the society – not only in the opening but throughout the novel.
There are numerous characters in The Gilded King, but our two protagonists, Julia and Cameron, are the main lenses through which the story is told. They are both very different in age, social class, and species (this is a vampiric, folkloric dystopia after all), and their story lines are told in alternating chapters that both move the story along and keep anticipation high; in other words, they are written incredibly well. Julia’s youth shines through as she grapples with being put into mature situations while not yet being able to cast aside her [reasonable] immaturity; an experience that is universal. Her insecurities are a bit grueling for her and the reader at times, but this is to be expected when her past is taken into consideration. Cameron, being much older and in a very different place than Julia (geographically, mentally, emotionally), struggles with devoting his life to a possible fool’s errand, and trying to make sense of his world that is no longer pieced together the way he wished it was. Both struggle with trusting others and trusting themselves, while also dealing with influences that sort of stand in their way and make life more bearable at the same time: love, moments of joy, and nostalgia.
Along with these inner struggles are every day struggles of outward survival. Cameron has devoted himself to a mission in the Red, which only gets more dangerous and puzzling as time goes on. Julia tries to stay out of the limelight and stick to the duties of her social position in the Blue, but it becomes apparent that she cannot avoid attention, and that she cannot anticipate the changes heading her way.
Ultimately, Josie Jaffrey has managed to balance thoroughness with brevity, the familiar and the unfamiliar. She has written something truly magical, from the plot to the characters and the order of the chapters, paragraphs, and words themselves. Sovereign: Book I ends with a breathtaking cliffhanger, which would be more painful [for this reviewer] if the sequel wasn’t just days away from being released. Bring on the anticipation, the goosebumps, and the…well, I don’t want to spoil it for you.
*The Gilded King is part of the world in which Josie Jaffrey’s Solis Invicti series takes place, so if you are following that series with this book, you will likely not get this impression (I have not yet read that series). With that said, you do not need to have read that series first to understand the book being reviewed here – a point I hope I’ve gotten across.