Book review: Gilded, Marissa Meyer

Fantastic world-building in a spin-off of Grimm's fairytales.

Gilded harnesses the original dark endings of the grimmest of Grimm’s fairytales in the stories embellished by the protagonist, Serilda, who is blessed—or cursed—by the god of stories and lies. The curious golden spokes in her eyes which reveal that she has been touched by the gods are mistaken, however, for the mark of the god of spinning. The plot intersects with Serilda’s stories as she discovers that the fantastic beasts she conjures up are not only of her imagination, and that the invented actions of her heroes and heroines may be her key to escape her worsening predicament.  

Marissa Meyer’s novel covers six moon cycles. Each full moon features a wild hunt, when the dark ones from the underworld and the tethered souls of mortals slip through the veil between the worlds, seeking prey of earthly and magical creatures. An endless moon—a full moon coinciding with a solstice—provides the highest hunting prizes, as this is the only time the seven gods can enter the mortal realm. A wounded god can grant a wish for anything, something the dark ones greedily covet.  

Read: Theatre review: The Comedy of Errors, Melbourne Shakespeare Company

Serilda, a miller’s daughter, lies to the antagonist, the Erlking, about her ability to spin straw into gold. Thus begins the parallel with Rumpelstiltskin: three times Serilda is summoned to the Dark Lord’s castle to spin straw, three gifts she gives to the Gilded Ghost who performs the gold-spinning for her. The rule of three technique continues in the three key male figures surrounding Serilda: her father the miller, the evil Erlking and her saviour Gild. After Serilda has pawned the only precious things she has, the audience wonders what she can bargain, because ‘all magic requires payment, to keep our worlds in balance’. Following Rumpelstiltskin the first-born child seems next: how will this play out with only a few more moons in the page count?

Gilded is more than a re-telling of Rumpelstiltskin. The success of fantasy depends on credible world-building. Meyer excels in her construction: opening the cover of this book is akin to entering a portal into an ethereal realm, into which the audience is drawn deeply by its exquisite descriptions and unlikely romance. Attractive design features enhance this otherworldly ambience. 

Specific word choices develop the mystique: settings include Märchenfeld (Fairytale Field), Verloren (Lost) and Asyltal (Asylum Valley). German words integrated alongside original language build atmosphere with a syntax and rhythm common to the fairytale genre. German speakers will enjoy revealing the secrets woven into the names, thereby adding extra depth to the plot. 

Through the gods the author provides a modern take on gender by employing the pronoun ‘they’, as ‘sometimes a god might be both a boy and a girl … sometimes, neither.’ Acknowledging that ‘mortals … put limitations on [them]selves’ the question is posed: ‘if you were a god … would you limit yourself?’.

As the stakes rise for Serilda the audience is taken to both sides of the veil at electrifying speed. Life imitates art as the reader experiences the dislocation and disorientation the protagonist feels when the consequences of chosen actions reinforce her growing realisation that ‘the [Erlking’s] castle [is] dangerous, no matter which side of the veil’. Serilda discovers the true power of story: can she determine her own ending by deliberately directing the plot? After all, she is ‘cursed by the god of lies, who … [is] as much the god of truths’.

Meyer’s open ending provides optimal foundations for a sequel, something readers will surely welcome from the bestselling author of the five-part Lunar Chronicles series and Renegades trilogy.

Gilded, Marissa Meyer
Publisher: Text Publishing
ISBN: 9781922458292
Format: Paperback
Pages: 502pp
Publication date: 2 November 2021
RRP: $22.99

Annabel Harz is a career teacher, burgeoning editor and an emerging writer. She released her first book in 2017. Her second release, Journey into the Shadow and the Sunshine, was released in October 2021.