Before our story begins: Vic James on Gilded Cage
25 January 2017
By Rob Cox
Vic James' Gilded Cage, her fantastic debut novel and the first title in her electrifying The Dark Gifts Trilogy, is out now in paperback. Here, Vic lets us in to her world and establishes the forthcoming adventure...
For me, building a solid and deep backstory was crucial to bringing to life the world of Gilded Cage – a Britain that is essentially our own, but with one crucial difference: magic.
Nearly one thousand five hundred years before, there may or may not have been a king who had magic. Probably he dies. (After all, everyone dies.) Certainly he disappears. He is never spoken of again.
After him come other kings. We know their names: Edwards and Richards and Henrys. Many Henrys. There are even a few queens. None of them have magic, although a few among their knights and courtiers do.
Then four hundred years before our story starts, the Last King lives and dies. His name is Charles I. He, too, does not have magic.
But those who kill him do.
In our world – mine and yours – the death of Charles I is the culmination of the English Civil War. Oliver Cromwell and his roundheads battle the king and his cavaliers, and the foppish monarch is put to the sword after a brief and unsatisfactory trial.
But in the world of Gilded Cage, those who rise up against the king are among his leading aristocrats. They all have one thing in common – Skill.
Skill is a powerful magic. Scholars try and quantify some of the things it can do: persuasion, infliction, manipulation, reparation. One scholar sites alone in his library, trying to puzzle out the mysteries of Skill. His names is Cadmus Parva.
His father, Lycus, is the ringleader of the rebellious aristocrats. Lycus tortures to death Charles, the Last King, and destroys the royal palace at Westminster.
But Cadmus is a peace-loving man. One blessed – or cursed – with powerful Skill. Seeing the country on the verge of anarchy after his father’s revolt, he travels to London. And there, on the site of the ruined palace, in three days and using only Skill, he constructs the House of Light. It rises impossibly high, and shimmers with otherworldly power. It will be the meeting place of the new parliament of Skilled aristocrats.
They call it the Great Demonstration. What Cadmus is demonstrating to the common people is that the power of the Skilled is great, and magnificent, and not to be resisted. What he is demonstrating to the Skilled is that they are strong, they rule, and so their rule should be a thing of brightness and justice – not like his father’s dark deeds.
And to signal this new relationship, Cadmus declares that the aristocrats are to be known as the Equals, because as the country’s new rulers they shoulder an equal responsibility with the common people for its peace and prosperity. The common people will repay the Equals by giving ten years of labour, a form of indentured service. This will bind Equals and commons together.
But this new relationship quickly earns an ugly name: the ‘slavedays’. Cadmus, an honourable man, believes that his fellow Equals are likewise honourable.
They are not.
A ruling family emerges – the Jardines. They adopt Cadmus as one of their own. Successive generations of Jardines, and others, rule Britain as Chancellors. On their watch, the slavedays truly earn their name. Conditions for the common people become harsher.
As other nations rise in power, Britain maintains its place in the world off the back of the forced labour of the slavedays. The vast markets of China, and other world economies, are sated with British goods manufactured in the slavetowns – chief among them, Millmoor, Manchester’s shadow town. As the twenty-first century begins, Britain is a thoroughly modern nation. It has schools, universities, the internet.
Yet still the slavedays.
And this year, right now, in the world of Gilded Cage the Hadley family decides to begin its days together. There are risks if you do not do your days early: if parents die with their days incomplete, their children inherit their debt of service. There are rewards if you do your days young: citizenship, the right to travel, to own property.
Siblings Luke and Abi Hadley don’t know it yet, but they’re about to be swept up into a world-changing series of events. They won’t just be at the heart of everything – they’ll be making it happen.
But is one person directing where it all goes next? Silyen Jardine, the youngest son of the Jardine dynasty, has his own ideas about history. And his own vision of how this particular story ends...
A modern Britain
An age-old cruelty
Britain's magically skilled aristocracy compels all commoners to serve them for ten years, and Abi Hadley is assigned to England's most ruthless noble family. The secrets she uncovers could win her freedom - or break her heart... Meanwhile a young aristocrat plots to remake the world with his dark gifts.
Gilded Cage is out now in paperback, ebook and audio.