Engaging YA retelling

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GILDED is an enthralling, imaginative, and atmospheric YA fantasy that transports the reader to a world with dangerous magic lurking in the woods. Serilda was born of a gods gift to her father from the god of stories/lies, leaving her with unique golden eyes. This mark has kept her an outsider from the townspeople, who worry about the misfortune she may bring. Serilda is a terrific storyteller, and not even she always knows where her stories will go. This talent has endeared her to the young children of the town - and seemed to have saved her from the Erlking's anger when she lied to save two magical beings hunted by his beasts and ghosts.

She told the Erlking that she was spinning straw into gold with her unique eye pattern being a gods gift from Hulda, the god associated with good, honest work and particularly spinning. Her story told to the Erlking has drawn his interest, and he forces her to come to his castle and spin straw into gold for him, with her and her father's lives on the line if she is unable to do so. Desperate, she strikes a bargain with a strange young man who helps her complete her task - for a price.

What I loved: Although inspired by Rumplestiltskin, this story captures a lot of mythology and fairytales in the beasts, gods, and the frightening Erlking himself. The plotting was quite masterful, with fantastic world-building, compelling characters, and surprising twists along the way. The stories that Serilda tells build the mythology of his world and its history in a unique way, and their inclusion really adds something extra to the story. I was fascinated by these stories, and while some of the plot twists around them were easy to guess, there were still many other twists that were unexpected and keep the reader on their toes.

This story was completely engrossing, and it was so easy to become lost in this other world with Serilda, Gild, and the other characters and mythical creatures we meet along the way. This is a book that moves quickly to the end and will leave the reader reeling and gasping for more. Serilda is a sympathetic and singular character that is easy to fall in love with. She has been dealt a hand and has made the most of it, and her craftiness and boldness gets her into understandable but impossible situations. Similarly, Gild is a mysterious and sweet character who grows on the reader quickly. Some of the other characters, such as the ghosts and the moss maidens, were really intriguing, and I am hoping to learn even more about them in future books. The romance was also really sweet, and considering the background of the characters involved, easy to buy into and cheer for.

The book also addresses some unique and thought-provoking themes around loneliness/isolation, trickery, the fine line between truth/lies and gift/curse, both the corruptibility and purity of love, family, and loss/grief. This story can be heavy and deliciously dark at times, but also manages to contain some humorous, swoon-worthy, and delightfully surprising moments. Readers will be left eagerly anticipating the next book to explore these themes further.

Final verdict: Atmospheric and imaginative, GILDED is an enthralling YA fantasy that will leave readers reeling and begging for more. Highly recommend for fans of THE WHITE STAG, THE SHADOWS BETWEEN US, and WINTERSONG.

Please note that I received an ARC from the publisher. All opinions are my own.