Though author Marissa Meyer’s latest efforts have been contemporary YA romances and dystopian superhero tales, she’s still best known for her fairytale retellings. Her Lunar Chronicles series dropped several traditional fairytales heroines like Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Snow White into a futuristic world where humans, androids, and cyborgs all exist. Heartless reimagined the origin story of the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland. And in her latest novel, Gilded, she turns the story of Rumpelstiltskin on its head, crafting a propulsive tale of ghosts, revenge, and star-crossed love.
Like the original tale, Gilded does follow the story of a miller’s daughter, though here her name is Serilda, and she’s been blessed – or cursed, depending on how you look at it – by a literal god. A chosen child of Wyrdith, the god of lies and stories – for what is a story if not an especially well-told lie? – Serilda loves telling tales (tall or otherwise) and sports gold wheels in her irises that make her neighbors uncomfortable. (They think they mean she’s bad luck, and are quick to blame her when anything goes wrong in town.)
One full moon, Serilda rescues a pair of moss maidens from the sadistic Erlking, the undead leader of the magical Wild Hunt who crosses into the mortal realm once a month to chase magical creatures and tempt unwary humans into following after them. To save the moss maidens, Serilda tells a lie about harvesting straw to spin into gold, one that the Erlking believes so thoroughly that he returns in a month’s time, eager to see if her claims prove true.
Kidnapping her and dragging her back to his castle, he locks Serilda in a cell, vowing to kill her if she doesn’t turn the straw waiting inside into gold. She’s despondent, naturally, until a strange red-headed poltergeist named Gild appears suddenly, and offers to complete her seemingly impossible task, for a price.
As you’ve probably guessed by now, Gilded is more than simply the story of Rumpelstiltskin retold. Meyer’s book folds in all sorts of interesting German folklore, from the Erlking and the Wild Hunt to nachtrapp and the Shrub Grandmother. The atmosphere is dark and foreboding, with liberal splashes of curses, revenge, and lonely ghosts who can’t remember anything about their pasts. A novel about deception, lies, and the motivations behind the stories we tell ourselves, Gilded is full of satisfying surprises, and its propulsive pace will make its rather extended length pass by in a blink. (This book clocks in at around 500 pages, which I suspect may be enough to give some readers pause.)
Fair warning, however, this is a fairly dark story for something that’s technically classified as a YA book, and Meyer doesn’t pull any punches about how very real both evil and risk are in this world she’s created. There are (multiple) character deaths, a handful of gruesome flashbacks, and a general air that for quite a lot of the people in this fictional fantasy world, life is generally brutish and short. Whether it was always like that – or whether it must stay the way that it is – is a mystery this series will have to tackle in its continuation, which, quite frankly, I’m eager to see, if only because there are so many questions still to be answered.
For those who are already fans of Meyer’s work, this book will deepen your appreciation for her ability to put a fresh face on a well-known tale. If Gilded is your first step into her world, enjoy the ride – and the agonizing wait for the sequel.
Gilded is available now. Let us know if you’re planning to give it a look!