‘Gilded’ and ‘Cursed’ by Marissa Meyer: A triumphant return to fairytale retellings, with a hot Rumpelstiltskin and a fearsome foe

Our Gilded book review, along with its follow-up Cursed, considers Marissa Meyer’s duology where a girl with the gift of gab falls in love with a helpful poltergeist.

Marissa Meyer has been dabbling in a few genres over the last couple years, to mixed results, so the new duology of Gilded and Cursed is a homecoming for her. This Gilded book review can definitely say that the Gilded Series is Meyer absolutely in her element, weaving an adaptation of a well-known fairytale, with enough familiar beats to spark a welcome pang of recognition, and enough twists and deviations to keep readers feverishly turning pages.

In Gilded, Serilda is blessed by the god of stories. This gets her in trouble often enough, but when she ends up protecting some forest folk from the fearsome demonic Erlking, the lie that springs from her lips—that she spins straw into gold—sets off a chain of events that results in the Erlking locking her in his castle to do just that. Enter a mischievous (and attractive) poltergeist called “Gild,” who offers to spin the gold for her in exchange for some jewelry and the promise of her firstborn child. Anyone with a passing familiarity with the story of Rumpelstiltskin will be able to guess at the contours of this story… but that’s what makes it fun!

Above all, this story is atmospheric. The spooky winter nights, the eerie castle ruins… Meyer transports the reader to her world, and demands the books be read with a blanket and a giant mug of tea. The way the book interweaves fables with the story is elegant, and a great meta-narrative about the power that stories hold.

Serilda is a terrific protagonist. She is resourceful, determined, caring, and believably flawed. Her single-minded focus at unraveling the mystery of the castle is laudable, as is the way she always thinks on her feet and tries to wriggle out of scrapes. No matter how outmatched she appears to be, she never quits—she persists in plotting and scheming to protect those she cares about.

In opposition, the Erlking is one of the most formidable villains I’ve read. He must be, to keep up with Serilda. Meyer has a gift for writing villains (Fairest is a masterpiece), and this proves no different. The Erlking is always several steps ahead, and always manages to pivot in any situation to achieve his ends. Watching him and Serilda face off is terrific, because they are both so competent and intelligent. The Erlking is also terrifying in his ruthlessness, and it is very readily apparent why everyone in this world is so afraid of him.

This dynamic persists in Cursed, and it’s refreshing when both hero and villain are worthy opponents. Every twist and betrayal on the Erlking’s part will leave the reader breathless and eager to turn the page.

gilded marissa meyer book review

The world-building in this series is terrific. It’s almost hard to talk about Cursed in a Gilded book review, but let us just say that the reader will want to pay very careful attention in these books.

Every little detail mentioned in Gilded—every seed Meyer planted, every seemingly throwaway element that could be “atmospheric” or “fleshing out the world”—all gets wrapped up together in a wonderfully elegant way. Disparate threads of Serilda’s mother, and the Erlking’s penchant for hunting mythical beasts, and the Veil between the world… all of it comes together. Nothing in this world, it turns out, is that way “just because”—there is a reason for everything! I am in awe of how judiciously Meyer developed and wove all these threads together.

The romance was, of course, top notch. Meyer knows how to create chemistry between her characters, and I was 100% here for every single scene Serilda and Gild shared. Even when it appears as if they might have a secret between them in Cursed for needless drama, it ends up not being an issue, and actually makes their romance all the sweeter. Even if the necessary “Rumpelstiltskin” name-drop is a bit ham-fisted in the end, that does not adversely impact our Gilded book review—by that point, the reader is so invested in Serilda and Gild, we are just along for the ride.

Ever since Once Upon a Time made Rumpelstiltskin more than just a villain, many fans have been hankering for a solid retelling of this fairytale—one of the few truly well–known ones that Disney Animation has not yet defined in our imaginations. Once Upon a Time could never quite follow through on its intriguing promise of “there’s more to Rumpelstiltskin,” because there ended up being too much to him—he was also the Beast, and Peter Pan’s crocodile, and the old man from Up. He was redeemed and broke bad again with every season. Meyer, in contrast, sticks firmly to the story of Rumpelstiltskin without trying to do too much—and in this, proves remarkably effective.

Now that we’ve read the conclusion to this series, we can use this Gilded book review to recommend the duology without hesitation. While we still have long, dark nights that cry out for a literary trip to a creepy forest… grab these books, and be reminded of the power of a well-told story.

‘Gilded’ hit store shelves on November 2, 2021

Buy Gilded by Marissa Meyer from Macmillan, Bookshop.org, Book Depository, or Amazon. You can also add it to your Goodreads list.

‘Cursed’ hit store shelves on November 8, 2022

Buy Cursed by Marissa Meyer from Macmillan, Bookshop.org, Book Depository, or Amazon. You can also add it to your Goodreads list.

This article was written by Subjectify contributor Irvin K. Look for more recommendations on our books page.