Gilded is Marissa Meyer’s return to fairy tale retellings, this time melding Rumplestiltskin with the legends of the Wild Hunt and the Erlking.
The story follows Serilda, a miller’s daughter cursed by the god of lies with an impressive storytelling talent. Unfortunately, when she crosses paths one night with the Erlking, she tells a story so compelling, it fools even him…at least temporarily. Determined to catch her in the lie, he brings her back to his castle to prove her boast by spinning straw into gold by morning. Enter Gild, a mysterious boy trapped in the ghostly castle who just so happens to possess that rare talent, though he can only use it for a price.
Gilded is an interesting story, but I have to admit it’s probably my least favorite of Marissa Meyer’s books. The story starts strong, but lags a bit through the middle, possibly due to some unnecessary filler (unless the people of Adalheid, the village outside the veil to the Erlking’s castle, play a more significant role in the sequel, we may have spent too much time getting to know details about them), and then ends right when things seem to start happening. Depending on the length of the second book, I’m wondering if Gilded could have been thinned out, and the two would have been better off combined into a single stand-alone book.
As to the characters, the Erlking is a formidable and mysterious villain, and Meyer definitely makes you want to try to figure him out. Serilda and Gild are likable characters whom I enjoyed, but their romance felt a little formulaic at times. Granted, the speed at which they connected (They spent approximately 5 nights in each other’s company over the course of the whole book) is not completely outside the realm of possibility given their isolated backgrounds, but they just didn’t have that magnetic spark I’ve come to expect from Meyer’s past character romances.
The story is darker, definitely closer to its Brothers Grimm roots, than what you might expect from a fairy tale retelling, with plenty of ghosts and blood throughout. I’m not opposed to a good ghost story, and it seemed like an exciting direction to take, so I didn’t have an issue with this until the very end of the book. I’ll try to be vague about this next part, because I don’t want to give anything away, but I have to say it because it’s one of the stronger reasons behind my reaction to the book. So, skip the next paragraph if you’re concerned about any hints or potential spoilers.
*I don’t like it when bad things happen to kids. I understand the peril might need to be there to raise the stakes, sure, but I just don’t like it when the axe actually drops, though I can begrudgingly respect it if the author has shown it was the inevitable outcome of the plot. While the threat made sense to me in this case, the actual follow-through did not feel inevitable.
Ultimately, I have to withhold my final judgement until the sequel comes out, because knowing certain characters’ fates and seeing how their relationships deepen may change my feelings. Gilded is pretty clearly only half a story, so standing on its own, it’s hard to give it more than 2.5 stars or so–it’s a quality read, just not fully satisfying without a proper conclusion. It is possible, however, that when viewed with its concluding sequel it will come across in a more positive light and I can bump that rating up. I’m hopeful!