Deka prays for her blood to run pure. If it flows red at the cutting ceremony, she can take her place as a woman, and will be able to wear a mask, hiding her face from the gaze of men. If it flows gold, she will be designated impure. She’s both excited and scared, because sometimes she has unnatural intuition, just like her mother, a dark-skinned outsider from the south who was always viewed with suspicion. On the day of the ceremony, the deathshrieks attack and she soon comes to learn what happens to those who are deemed impure.

I’m a demon, and I will survive this to win my absolution and a life for myself.

Deka lives in a patriarchal society where women are controlled and used by those who pretend to protect them. For those like Deka, there is no protection. Her only chance is to go south and train to be a soldier, to fight to protect those who would see her dead, or worse. It can be quite gruesome in places, especially for YA, with some scenes of what can only be called torture.

I thought this was a strong debut, with some fresh ideas. The hints at what is really going on are revealed slowly, enough to guess before it’s revealed but not so much that’s it’s obvious from the start.

Deka believes herself a demon when she bleeds gold. She is a pious young woman, who has had no reason to doubt the teachings of the elders. Good women know their place and serve their men. Her father looks upon her with horror after the ceremony. She is ready to welcome her death, thinking it is the way she can redeem herself in the eyes of god. But death doesn’t come so easily to her kind, and there are plenty ready to exploit her, at the same time as hating her very existence.

No matter my origins, there is worth in what I am.

I loved Ixa, did anyone else imagine him as Toothless from How to Train Your Dragon? As a shape-shifting creature he wasn’t a dragon, but he was very cat-like, and could fly.

Rather than replicating history, the North is the part of the continent that has been colonised, with the pale skinned Northerners resentful of their Southern colonisers. Yet for the impure girls, their race makes little difference. Deka befriends other “Gilded Ones” from all corners of their world, some treated better than others by their families. It is still a story of intolerance, hatred and fear.

The story will continue in The Merciless Ones, due next year.

ATY: 41. A book by a new-to-you BIPOC author

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