Spotlight on Gilded, by Christina Farley, for MMGM
Have I mentioned how much I love you guys? Maybe I’m still feeling the euphoria of my winter break, but I was thinking this week how great it is to be a part of a community of readers, writers, and reviewers like this one. This is going to sound odd, but I love that I know very little about you guys’ personal lives–and don’t need to. We love books, and that’s enough. 🙂
Middle grade books especially! And I think this one qualifies. The setting is a high school in Korea and it definitely has some YA overtones, but school library journal lists the age as grade 7 and up, and on the whole I think it felt more upper middle grade to me than YA. The romance, while there, felt like icing on the cake, while the adventure drove the book. I received my copy, along with the next two in the series, from a giveaway hosted by the lovely Natalie, of Literary Rambles, in conjunction with an interview with author Christina Farley. Thank you to both of these generous ladies!
So, that said what’s this book about? Jae Hwa Lee is an American-Korean who’s been transplanted back to S. Korea by her dad after the death of her mother. There, she finds out about a curse in her father’s family, comes to peace with her destiny, and kicks some demi-god hiney.
Not a small order, yes? The book is ambitious, and for the most part, pulls it off. Korea came alive for me, and Seoul especially so. As my regulars may remember, my son (who turns 19 next month!) is living in Seoul right now, serving a mission, so I read with eager fascination and loved every mention of my recently-discovered-favorite-new-food gimbap, or any other reference I recognized. But, I don’t think you’d have to give the story that level of focus to enjoy what it has to offer! If you’re unfamiliar with Korean culture and words, you may find the beginning a bit hard to follow. She opens at a museum and kind of throws you in the deep end. But you’ll soon find your footing, when the story shifts to the international high school, and from there you’ll manage fine.
As for the story itself, it’s a bit convoluted so I’ll just summarize–Jae Hwa is the oldest girl of her line, and therefor the target of a demi-god, Haemosu, who’s been taking girls from her family for hundreds of years. Worse, the baddy recently got a power-up from a conniving ally, and he’s willing to threaten, manipulate, and coerce Jae to get what he wants. However, she’s no fainting flower. She’s a top-notch martial artist and expert archer. Moreover, she’s willing to do anything to protect her family, and she’s got an ally or two of her own. On the more mundane level those allies include her grandfather, whom she believed hated her at the beginning of the book but soon learns is her truest friend. And there’s her would-be boyfriend, a young man at her high school, Marc, who may or may not have connections to a secret society, and has an agenda of his own. On the supernatural level she’s got a few fans, as well as an excellent ally in Haechi, defender of Seoul and Aslan-level lion-dude of awesomeness.
And that brings us to what I believe is the book’s greatest strength–the interweaving of Korean mythology. It’s probably a reasonably safe assumption that many readers will by fuzzy at best on Korean mythology on picking up this book. I know I was. But, after reading it I not only feel I have a better grasp of the various players on the stage, I’ve since found myself following up on what I learned with forays of my own. Bridges have been built, and doors thrown open, and I love it when a book does that for me!
However, I’ll readily acknowledge that I was perhaps more invested than your average reader. Let’s see what Apricot-kitty thought of it:
“You’re right that Haechi was cool–he’d get a nod from me and probably a purr, as well. But, what about Jae, herself? Did you really not notice how full of herself she was? That she also happened to be rather annoying? And took the teen drama thing to whole new heights? This author should have picked a heroine that we could like, as well as admire. You know, someone like Haechi!”
Okay, so I will admit that I found Jae less engaging, as a character, than I would have liked. The story as told through her pov sometimes pushed me out. But, it always pulled me forward, as well! And in the end I’d come to like her well enough that I didn’t mind her anymore. 😀 It’s true that it’s not perfect, but it does a great job of transporting the reader into another culture, and launching you on a fantastic adventure.
For more Marvelous Middle Grade Monday reviews, spotlights, interviews and giveaways, stop by Shannon Messenger’s blog for the full line up–and happy reading!