I was provided a free ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.
I knew from the moment I saw the description of this book that I was going to want to read it. Having seen the cover, read the description…when it showed up in a NetGalley email to me, I knew that I had to request it.
I was not disappointed.
James writes a chilling picture of a world which looks a great deal like our own, but is far and away different at the same time. The world is divided in half, the Equals–those who possess a type of magical ability (or come from a family that does) called Skill, and the commoners, who are Skillless. It have been made mandate, at least in the version of Great Britain that we are following, that all unSkilled people are to serve what they call their “slavedays”–a decade of servitude to the Equals. Some work in houses as “servants”, others in industrial work camps. We follow the Hadley family, who are all meant to go–by design–to Kyneston, one of the most (if not the most) prestigious house there is…until the lone son of the family, Luke, is sent alone to Millmoor, a slavetown with a reputation for being the absolute worst of its kind.
We see a lovely transition in each of our characters, fascilitated by the changing viewpoints, with none of our main point of view characters left behind. (I’m reminded a bit of the Song of Ice and Fire series, and all the switching POVs there. Whereas we could almost be anywhere in the world in Westeros in any given chapter, the places stay fairly consistent through CAGE, which I think helps manners and allows for the plot to flow more evenly.
Abigail, the eldest child of the family, finds her way into an office job with Jenner, the oddball member of the Jardine family who–despite having Skilled parents–has no Skill himself. Daisy, the youngest, cares for the Heir Gavar Jardine’s illegitimate daughter Libby. The mother works as a nurse and the father assists with mechanical repair. All in all, relative peace. (Inasmuch as there ever is in Kyneston.) As for Luke, his first days at Millmoor aren’t all sunshine and rainbows–not that he expected them to be–but he quickly finds a way to make a difference in a world that desperately needs helping. At the same time, Abi begins to see that not all is rosy in the world of the Equals, and sees just how broken the system can be–and both what needs to be done, and what is not likely to be done. Too often, they’re the same thing.
Both the concept and the scope of Skill are fascinating, and James’ world is terrifyingly believable. Seeing the difference in Abi and Jenner attempting to maneuver their working relationship as edges of something else start creeping in, and Daisy’s complete ability to care for Libby and be unswayed by the massively intimidating Heir to the Jardine House is brilliant in its simplicity, and shows us the internal chaos of Kyneston nicely without having to beat anyone about the head and shoulders to do such–and shows the difference between the life of the Equals and the life of the slaves even more so. And for once, a classic YA trope happened and I wanted it to. (I wanted it so badly.) So that’s a benefit.
I’m excited to see that this will be a series; I really want to see how the bombshell at the end pans out. Well worth a read.
Rating: **** (Recommended)