MAGIC COMPELS. WE BLEED.
The captivating dystopian trilogy that began with Gilded Cage continues. In a modern Britain where magic users control wealth, politics—and you—an uprising has been crushed. In its aftermath, two families will determine the country’s fate. The ruthless Jardines make a play for ultimate power. And the Hadleys, once an ordinary family, must find the extraordinary strength to fight back.
Abi Hadley is a fugitive. Her brother, Luke, a prisoner. Both will discover that in the darkest places, the human spirit shines brightest. Meanwhile, amid his family’s intrigues, Silyen Jardine dreams of forgotten powers from an earlier age.
As blood runs in the streets of London, all three will discover whether love and courage can ever be stronger than tyranny.
How do you choose when you can’t save everyone?
Look for all three books in the mesmerizing Dark Gifts trilogy:
GILDED CAGE • TARNISHED CITY • BRIGHT RUIN
Praise for Tarnished City
“Highly recommended . . . There’s an admirable level of world-building . . . with real moments of empathy and compassion [and] a true nail-biter of a cliffhanger ending.”—Fantasy Literature
“Multifaceted complexity . . . lively, determined characters.”—Publishers Weekly
About the Author
Vic James is the author of Gilded Cage, which was shortlisted for the Compton Crook award and was a World Book Night 2018 pick, and its sequels Tarnished City and Bright Ruin. A current-affairs TV director who loves stories in all their forms, she has covered the 2016 U.S. presidential election and Britain’s EU referendum for BBC1 and has twice judged The Guardian’s Not the Booker Prize. She has lived in Rome and Tokyo, and currently lives in London.
Read an Excerpt
They came for Luke that night.
At that morning’s farce of a trial, Luke had been found guilty of a crime he couldn’t remember but was certain he hadn’t committed. Then Gavar Jardine had dragged him from Kyneston’s East Wing. He’d slung him in here, a small chamber beneath the kitchens.
It was stone-walled, chilly, and unlit. Groping around in the darkness had identified only a thick wooden counter and some empty barrels. The air had a musty sourness that seeped into your skin. Kyneston wasn’t the sort of place to have dungeons, and besides, the Jardines didn’t need to lock people up to restrain them. So this must be part of the wine cellars.
Which meant that close by, life was going on as normal. And Kyneston was still full of hundreds of Equals. So much had happened since the ball where Chancellor Zelston had died: the East Wing’s annihilation and restoration, his own trial, Crovan’s Skillful fight with Jackson and its catastrophic end. The Equals would doubtless linger at the Jardine estate to pick over it all. Slaves would be up and down to the kitchens and cellars regularly, too.
One of them would have keys to this room. Or could get word to Abi, who could surely find some.
So Luke had spent the next few hours banging on the door to attract attention. When his fists became sore, he kicked it instead—though he knew better than to imagine he might kick it down. He shouted until he was hoarse, then rested his voice and redoubled his pummeling, before shouting some more.
But not even this physical commotion was as exhausting as the confusion in his brain. In whatever direction Luke turned his thoughts, he ran into the same dead ends of incomprehension and ignorance.
Someone had killed Zelston, and it had to be Luke himself. But only the deed was his. Not the intention.
Doc Jackson had defended him. Yet Jackson was an aristocrat, an Equal, and so had also deceived and betrayed him. Luke’s memories of the past twenty-four hours were a maze in which he wandered, utterly lost.
As the day wore on and no one came, Luke sagged against the door, drained. Eventually he must have fallen asleep slumped against it. When he woke, it was because the door had been opened from the outside, causing him to spill forward over the boots of someone on the threshold. The person’s identity was hard to make out, thanks to the dazzle of a star-bright light cupped in one hand.
“I’m not the rescue party,” said Silyen Jardine. “Sorry.”
Get up, some tiny voice in Luke’s skull urged him. Run.
But he was shattered, and no part of him obeyed, neither his leaden legs nor his bruised hands. Luke opened his mouth, but only a croak emerged. The Young Master screwed up his face and slid his feet out from under Luke’s huddled body.
The Equal folded his fingers and extinguished the light. The next thing Luke knew, Silyen was crouched over him in the darkness, one hand curled in the collar of his now filthy white shirt, the other pressed against his temples. Luke shuddered at the touch. When the Equals were done hurting you on the outside, they could always hurt you some more on the inside.
But there wasn’t any pain.
“I have questions,” Silyen whispered. “And right now, you’re the best chance I have of finding answers.”
The Equal’s cool fingers trailed down the side of Luke’s face. When he gripped Luke’s jaw, for a mad moment Luke thought the boy was going to bend down and kiss him. But it was more intimate and far worse than that. Something inside him writhed and leapt at the Equal’s touch.
And Silyen must have felt it, too, because that creepily radiant smile lit his face as if he’d conjured back his Skill-light. His hand moved down to Luke’s neck, and Luke’s pulse throbbed beneath the pressure of Silyen’s calloused fingers, as if it might burst and spray them both with bright arterial blood.
An image came unbidden into his head: Jackson on all fours in front of the Parliament of Equals, pure light exploding from every pore as Crovan triumphed. Luke closed his eyes against the unbearable memory. But Silyen was so close that Luke couldn’t avoid the feather-trace of his breath as he spoke.
“If you don’t try to escape,” Silyen Jardine murmured, “I won’t let him break you. Not beyond repair.”
Then the hand disappeared and Luke heard himself groan with relief. He opened his eyes to see Silyen brushing the knees of his jeans as he stood up.
“He’s fit for travel,” Silyen announced, with his usual brisk carelessness. He was addressing someone who waited farther along the dim passageway. “I’ll undo Kyneston’s binding at the gate so he’s all yours. Come on, Luke. Don’t keep your new master waiting.”
The boy offered a slender hand to Luke, who stared at it, then turned away and grabbed the doorframe for support. Luke wasn’t entirely playacting as he labored to pull himself upright, but it gave him a few precious seconds to think.
He had just worked it out when the person waiting at the end of the corridor lifted a Skill-light of his own and confirmed the deduction. Lord Crovan stood there, looking just as he had when Luke had taken his bag in Kyneston’s Great Hall only a few nights earlier. His overcoat was already buttoned. Fit for travel.
In just a night and a day, Luke had become a murderer, a defendant, and now a prisoner. In the uproar after Jackson’s duel with this man in a bid to defend him, Luke had barely heard Lord Jardine utter the word that sentenced him. But he remembered it now: Condemned.
Condemned and passed into the custody of Lord Arailt Crovan, for transportation to the man’s estate of Eilean Dòchais, in Scotland. No word spoken of any release. No word of any review of that sentence. You could almost hear the sound of a thrown-away key rattling down a deep well.
Luke couldn’t allow Crovan to interrogate him. The man’s Skill would discover Luke’s memories of the club, and put his Millmoor friends in danger.
Yet Luke needed to know what had really happened at the ball, to clear his name. Not just for his own sake, but for his family’s, too.
“My sisters,” he said urgently, turning to Silyen. “Are they okay? My parents?”
“Going to Millmoor,” Silyen replied. “Safest place for them, in the circumstances.”
Luke felt winded all over again. Now that he knew what the Equals were capable of, the thought of his family far away from them was a relief. But he knew firsthand the horrors of Millmoor: the risky work, the casual brutality and injustice, the way Daisy’s education and perhaps even her growth would be stunted in that pitiless place.
“Oh,” Silyen added. “The little one stays here. Gavar’s special request.”
Daisy was staying at Kyneston?
But Luke was out of time for more questions. Crovan paced down the passageway and stopped in front of Luke, eyeing him with faint distaste.
“Why the delay? I wish to be gone before the rabble wakes to yet another day of gossip and gluttony. You’re mine now, boy. Come with me.”
Luke bit his lip and followed the man as he led the way back through the dim corridors of the great house. It would be madness to try to run. Even if he escaped Crovan and Silyen—which was unlikely—there was no way past Kyneston’s wall. He’d be reduced to hiding in the grounds. Perhaps hunting him down would provide the Equals with a day’s sport. Kyneston’s stables certainly held dogs and horses enough for that, and the Master of Hounds would doubtless enjoy it.
No, the time for escape would be while they were en route. The drive to Scotland would take all day. Surely there would be stops along the way. His brain unhelpfully supplied images of Crovan striding into a motorway service station calling imperiously for coffee. That would certainly cause a diversion.
Don’t try to escape, Silyen had told him. Well, Luke didn’t plan to start following life advice from Silyen Jardine anytime soon.
The rest of what Silyen had said made little sense. The Young Master had questions—presumably to do with Crovan—whose answers Luke would somehow help him obtain? It was a shame he hadn’t told Luke what the questions were, then.
They were at the kitchen door of the great house now. The one used for deliveries, from which, just a few days earlier, Luke had imagined he might smuggle himself into a vehicle and escape back to his friends in Millmoor. Back to the Doc and Angel. The betrayal he’d felt at learning their true identities still gnawed at the core of him.
A slave opened the kitchen entrance at their approach, and a draft enveloped the three of them as they stepped out into the night. Luke shivered from more than merely the chill. At Crovan’s castle, he might be in a cell. Always cold, always in darkness. There might be a time he looked back fondly on his night in Kyneston’s cellar.
But no. If he thought like that, he would be a prisoner in mind as well as body. Broken and afraid. He was going to get out of this. He had to.
Outside, another slave held open the door of a gleaming vehicle. Its engine was purring and Crovan was already getting in the other side. A third slave held the bridle of Silyen’s tall black horse, and the Young Master swung lightly up into the saddle as the beast pawed and snorted.
“Get in,” snapped Crovan’s voice from the car’s interior.
“Please tell my family I love them,” Luke blurted to the slave holding the door. “Tell them I’m sorry and I’ll see them again.”
The woman stared ahead impassively. If she’d heard him, she gave no sign. Luke’s resentment flared, before he checked himself. It was fear of the Equals that cowed people like this. Jackson had taught him that.
Jackson. Who was himself an Equal.
Luke wasn’t sure he’d ever be able to forgive him.
“Please,” Luke begged the woman one more time, before ducking his head and getting into the car.
The vehicle didn’t use its headlights; instead Silyen rode in front, casting a gentle glow of Skill-light. Luke craned his head to look back at the great house. Even in near-darkness, Kyneston was majestic. Light glowed along the parapet and silhouetted the bell in the bright cupola. A few windows were still illuminated.
But Luke’s eyes were irresistibly drawn to the golden light that writhed and pulsed along the ironwork skeleton of the vast East Wing. Luke had stood in it as it exploded, then just twelve hours later he had stood in it again for his trial. That impossible restoration had been Silyen Jardine’s handiwork.
And the Equal’s words in the cellar came back to him. The ones Luke had pushed away and tried not to think about. I won’t let him break you. Not beyond repair. A promise, of sorts. But also a threat. Repair. But before it—breaking.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Well, this was devastating in every way (and some good ways, too). Vic James, you wrecked me. As with "Gilded Cage," the world, characters, and plot are all amazing. The characters make this series for me. I can't really say anything more specific without massive spoilers, except ... Coira was a fantastic addition. I can't get enough of Luke. I loved seeing more of Abi. Gavar developments ftw. And Jenner. !!!! That is all. I need "Bright Ruin" immediately, and I am pretty gutted I have to wait until October to finish this series.
When I read Gilded Cage, the first book in the Dark Gifts series, I found it to be quite enjoyable but thought that it fell a bit short of what it could be. Tarnished City is one of the rare sequels that is better than the original. It is darker, more twisty, and overall much more interesting. Tarnished City shines a more critical eye on the power structure and imbalances inherent to this world while also expanding the focus of the series beyond the main characters. This book started off a bit slow but by the time I'd read a few chapters, I was completely and utterly hooked. After the events of Gilded Cage, Luke has been condemned for the murder of Chancellor Zelston. Taken away from his family, he fights to survive in a prison that wouldn't be out of place in a horror novel. Abi, desperate to prove her brother's innocence, is on the run. Not knowing who to trust, she goes to Millmoor in search of Heir Meilyr. However, stripped of his Skill and damaged, Heir Meilyr is struggling to survive each day. At the same time, Bouda is solidfying her political position with questionable means. Silyen, the ultimate wildcard, is researching Skill for his own purposes. Tarnished City was a huge, multi-character epic story. There were a variety of viewpoints, which allowed for an understanding of the complex political situation from all sides. While it may be too much for some readers, I loved the amount of detail and political plotting included in this novel. However, the political aspect was nicely balanced out by the action-oriented plot. Overall, the story was thoroughly enjoyable. I love that I'm not entirely sure of each character's end game. In general, I'm intrigued and excited by the direction the story is heading. The broader scope of Tarnished City meant that the main characters, namely Luke, Abi, and Silyen, weren't as present. However, I really liked all of the new secondary characters introduced. They had more diversity in terms of viewpoints, political beliefs, and experience that added another level of richest to the novel. There was also more exploration of privilege and unequal power dynamics in this novel, particularly in terms of political and romantic relationships. James did an excellent job of portraying the effect of these dynamics on the characters relationships. They felt significantly more realistic and added a lot of the depth that was missing in the first book. Tarnished City was a complex, constantly shifting novel that I thoroughly enjoyed. That cliffhanger was somewhat brutal. Although it draws many of the storylines in this novel to a close, it still managed to leave me anxiously awaiting Bright Ruin. I would recommend this series to readers who enjoy a darker, more politically inclined dystopian world. *Disclaimer: I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Well, lets start off with the fact that I loved the first book and I was super excited to be approved to review this book. Too bad the feeling didn't last. I felt like there was little world building, and I know that this is the second book in the series and world building has already been done, but there was literally no descriptions of the world around me. It was all action and story and nothing to help me build a picture. With that being said, the story was still great and I will definitely read the next book. Received an advance reader copy in exchange for a fair review.
*voluntarily and honestly reviewed the ARC I received from NetGalley* I really enjoyed this. I thought the first book was creepy, but this installment totally raises the standards. The writing style sets the mood of those old Victorian vibes but with a horrible class gap that sets people apart. Whether they like it or not. Then you have those with special abilities, who either are forced to do without or get a huge enhancement without warning. You'd think that's exciting enough, but then you have the whole mental torture feel with one of the character's journeys and it's just all near-overwhelming and... wow. You know? The best part is the author doesn't even have to resort to profanity or gory descriptions. She totally relies on the reader's imagination to set the limitations on how creepy a scene can turn. The characters were complex, they had a lot going on with themselves. It was all political and scandals and while you're watching all this, in the end, you're still asked the question as to whether or not you really know what mankind is capable of. I think because of that, I seriously enjoyed the character Silyen. He wasn't a favorite in the first book but this one totally changes my opinion of him.
Vic James continues to blow me away with this series! Every time I thought I knew where things were going, a new surprise or twist would throw everything out the window. The action picks up right where book 1, Gilded Cage, left off, so readers should be aware that this is book 2 in a trilogy and is not a standalone. There were some truly amazing and wonderful moments in this book, but there were also some horrible lows and heartbreaking losses. The overall feel of Tarnished City was darker and grittier than the previous book, which really amped up the intensity and emotion. Told in multiple POVs, we are privy to the inner thoughts, fears, and hopes of both our heroes and villains. We become painfully aware that few things are as they seem on the surface and are left questioning the true intentions of some of our characters. Unlikely heroes rise, the depth of evil will at times seem limitless, and we are forced to say goodbye too soon to some of our motley crew. I'm not going to lie, there were a few times when I was just gutted. I was barely done processing the events, when another thing would smash my heart again to bits. I think part of what left me so heartbroken, was the sheer surprise and lack of fanfare surrounding these events. No heroics or blaze of glory. Just a sudden and profound loss. I thought the commentary on human nature and the disparity between the haves and have nots was especially moving. The entire "social experiment" at Eilean Dochais as well as the Blood Fair was disturbing to say the least. It really makes one question what humanity is capable of when they can act with impunity. Familial love and loyalty also play a huge part in this series. The love between siblings and between parent and child influence so many of the actions of our characters. Abi, Luke, and especially Gavar grew so much through the course of this book. I cannot wait to find out what's next for our characters, as new alliances are formed and bridges are burned. Highly recommend this series! *I voluntarily read an advance reader copy of this book*
This is such an extraordinary series! I read the first book as an ARC last year, and was fortunate enough to win the GR giveaway for this installment and I can confidently report this book is as engaging, action- and surprising drama-packed, and wholly original as the first... In this book, the world James has crafted is really coming into its own - beyond the exceedingly entertaining main plot lines (there are several, very skillfully intertwined but still distinct enough to stand out and remain memorable across the books), there is a little more background and stage-setting worked into this one, and it really fleshed out the world for me in a way that added depth to the main story lines without ever feeling like extraneous detail. And lest it seem like I'm saying the book is character- or world-driven to the detriment of action or intrigue, let me be clear: there are some seriously mind-bending head games and hidden agendas at play throughout, and they kept me turning pages as fast as I could manage without losing the details that keep the whole thing so perfectly managed (manipulated?)... Second books often fall into the trap of serving as placeholders, necessary to tie the beginning and end together, but not very gripping on their own. Not so AT ALL here. The plot clicks along from the opening pages and I was just as hooked in this book as I was in the series opener. I was afraid I'd bee lost and have to re-read the first - there are so many things going on in parallel in this world, and so many characters with their own agendas and multiple balls in the air! - but James managed the transition beautifully, giving just enough detail to remind me of where things stand without an over-large rehash that would have slowed this book considerably. I'm sure there are still some details I missed but I never felt lost or confused or like I was missing something. Instead I felt like I jumped right back into the deep end along with Abi, Luke, and the rest of this exceptionally well-crafted universe - a place where nothing, and no one, is what it seems and devastating surprises lie around every corner. And lest you think you're safe if you stick to the middle of the road, remember this: some don't even wait for the corners... "Hiding in plain sight" seems to be a predominant trait of this version of Great Britain, and it makes for stark, startling, sophisticated storytelling that will sweep you off your feet. If you haven't wandered into the world of Equals and the UnSkilled yet, do - you won't be sorry!! My review copy was provided through the GoodReads giveaway program.
Sequels are such tricky things for trilogies. They have to bridge the gap between the (hopefully) exciting end with all the answers and the intriguing beginning with all of the questions. In many cases, authors use sequels to develop characters and further establish the setting. However, they still run the risk of creating imbalance in the series. Give away too much and the ending suffers. Do too little and readers lose interest in the series at large. It is my opinion that Tarnished City suffers more from too much explanation which creates more questions and will disappoint fans hoping for a bit more action and more answers. Vic James does not spend much time on character development as she does on politics. Politics are at the heart of the goals of the different factions, and Ms. James uses the sequel to explain it all. Between the various Skilled families and their ancestors, there is a lot take understand, and the names and political plots seem to never end. Making things worse is the fact that we add a few new narrators to the story. Not only do you have to keep track of who is against what or whom at any given time, you have to remember which narrator is which and on whose side they stand. By my count, there are at least five different agendas or factions ready to fight for power, making this story a bit more complicated than a battle of the Skilled versus the Unskilled as the first novel made the series out to be. It is more than a little confusing. There are some compelling character developments and discoveries that are bound to play an important role in the series' finale. However, these serve almost as inflatable rafts in a storm. They are there to keep readers from giving up on the heavy exposition and detailed history lessons of her world. They do work in the short term; Luke makes a rather shocking discovery which could be a game-changer, as does Abi. The fact remains though that the story by the end of the novel is so complex that it is virtually impossible to determine how it will all end. Five different factions all fighting over the right to rule and the fate of the Unskilled creates not only mass confusion but a myriad of possibilities. While you can admire Ms. James for her willingness to tackle such a complicated story, you do have to wonder if it is all worth it in the end. Already, after two weeks, the developments of Tarnished City are fading from my memory. By the time the final novel is available, the history lessons and general understanding of the various dynamics at play will be nothing but a distant memory. Should Ms. James find it necessary to rehash much of what was covered in this sequel, the finale is not only going to be very long but it will also be rather anti-climactic. However, to assume that readers do not need a refresher of past discoveries, she runs the risk of further alienating readers by confusing them even further than they might already be. To that end, one's enjoyment of the second novel hinges on what happens in the finale. Ms. James needs to find a way to tie all of the dry exposition into what hopefully is an exciting close to what is turning out to be an ambitious story.
Tarnished City was a great read. The plotlines were fantastic. I got vested in the characters lives. I would recommend that this book is for adults only. There is a reference to rape and there are sexual situations. Also, there is violence and language. This is a book that is not stand alone. You need to read book 1 to understand the events in Tarnished City. Saying that I would recommend this to family and friends with a suggestion that they read Gilded Cage first. This is also a book that I plan on rereading. **I chose to leave this review after reading an advance reader copy**
The first book in this series was high on my list of favorite YA reads last year, and Tarnished City is quite possibly even better. This is a darker, grittier read and the world-building continues to be phenomenal. Every character is so well-drawn – the depth is exceptional. Be prepared – deaths, betrayals, and surprises abound, and my jaw drops to page number ratio was exceedingly high. As with the first novel, many of these characters aren’t what they initially seem, but Silyen continues to intrigue me the most. I feel like there’s a clue right in front of me, but he remains an enigma. Such a complex storyline – politics, rebellion, power struggles – a YA read that doesn’t underestimate the intelligence of its audience. Highly recommend! Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the digital ARC.
"Tarnished City" is a powerful sequel to "Gilded Cage," a dark YA fantasy. This series takes place in an alternate reality, where Equals, people will extraordinary Skills (think X-Men type powers) rule several countries, including Britain, where Abi and her family live. All the Commoners (people without Skills/powers) are required to do slave days, which are 10 years spent in horrible conditions, doing labor for Equals. Equals have all the power because of their Skills. This sequel begins where the first book left off- Abi's family is being separated. Her little sister will be staying with the Jardines to watch over Gavar's illegitimate daughter, while Abi and her parents are being sent to a labor camp for slaves (where Luke had previously served). Luke has been condemned for the murder of the Chancellor, which he had done while being controlled and then had his memory erased to not remember the event. As someone who is Condemned, he is going to Crovan's- a cruel Equal- estate where people are tortured for their crimes and no one gets out unscathed. Things are not quite what they seem there, and this was perhaps one of the most fascinating parts of the book- everything is a bit shrouded in mystery and an unusual brand of torture is the norm. Abi has had some awakenings about what being a slave really means- and it isn't the portrait painted by the Equal government. She finds her way to Heir Meilyr (Doc Jackson) and Bodina, Angel, who are continuing their crusade and trying to do it without leaving anyone behind. However, things are going to get much more difficult for all of them as they fight against the enormous power of Equals. These cast of people were my favorites from the first book, and they continue to be in this book- they have a lot of strength and really bring up the questions of power and corruption that permeate the plot. Abi really matures during this book and begins to really come into her own. "She used to think 'courage' was a reckless, slightly stupid thing. She understood it a little better now. It was doing what was right, even when every shred of self-preservation screamed against it." Similar to the previous book, there are many different point-of-views in different chapters (told in third person limited so it is easy to follow). I really liked being able to follow so many different plotlines. Silyen's story became particularly interesting as he begins to explore what is Skill and how some people do/don't have it. For instance, why he has so much and Jenner so little. He's a bit of a mystery, and even by the end of the book, I am not sure I totally understand where he will be going- but I'm very interested to find out. Overall, I think this was a powerful sequel for what is rapidly becoming one of my favorite series. It's a dark story and definitely has some adult themes (slavery, power dynamics, birthrights/prejudices, murder/death, and punishments for crimes). However, I think it's an excellent read for adults and older teens. I don't want to say too much because I don't want to give anything away, but the later parts of the book really blew me away. There are a lot of twists and surprises that I absolutely did not see coming, and I love to be awed like that. I cannot wait to continue this fantastic series- so sad I'll have to wait until the next book to continue this jaw-dropping plot! Please note that I received an ARC from the publisher through netgalley. All opinions are my own.