Man, I expected to just write a smaller review for The Gilded Girl, but this wound up giving me a lot more to talk about than I thought. Though...in the case of The Gilded Girl, I don't mean this as a compliment. To be perfectly honest, I didn't like this one, mainly because it felt so deriative. The story takes place in the early 20th century, but where magic is common, and a rich girl named Emma Harris is sent to a fancy magical boarding school by her father. But when her father dies and she's left penniless, the greedy headmistress, Miss Posterity, forces her to become a servant and treats her worse than dirt. To complicate matters further, Emma learns that only rich kids are allowed to utilize their magic to their fullest potential, whereas people of the lower classes, like her new servant friend Izzy, are forced to have it snuffed out even as the time of their magic kindling comes around. When a classmate's kindling goes haywire, Emma and Izzy have to work together to make things right.
I'm not going to mince words here: The Gilded Girl feels like a complete rip-off of A Little Princess, using the exact same premise, characters, time period, and story beats as it. Emma is Sara, Izzy is a more strong-willed version of Becky, Frances is Ermengarde, Beatrice is Lavinia, Miss Posterity is Miss Minchin, Clementine is Amelia, and so on. Even the order of events that happen is the exact same as A Little Princess. Rich girl gets sent to rich girl school? Check. Father dies, loses all her money, and is abused by the mean headmistress? Check. Mysterious man is looking for her but is made to go on a wild goose chase due to lack of details and false leads? Checkity check check. Even the magical elements such as the talking cat and kindlings feel tacked on in a bad attempt to hide the fact that the story is basically a rehash of A Little Princess. Take the fantasy elements away, and it's basically A Little Princess in all but name.
The only good thing I can say about the book is that the prose is fine, and it's decently well written for a book aimed at 8-12 year olds. As far as the characters ago, not only are they all bland and carbon copies of other characters from other books, even their development is woefully predictable, and they don't even change much throughout the book. Everything that the characters go through feels painfully obvious if you either have knowledge of A Little Princess or are familiar with the archetypes from other media. The only characters that don't feel like they were ripped out of A Little Princess were Tom and Figgy, but even they don't stand out enough to really feel interesting. In fact, I can't bring myself to care about any of the characters because they're just copies of all the ones from A Little Princess but without anything to really make them feel like they're characters in their own right.
With that being said, these days, it's impossible to create an original story anymore. I hold the belief that there's no such thing as originality anymore, and that execution matters. You can have the most cliche story in the world but if you actually care to create well-developed, believable characters that can drive said story, or even do something new with it, you can write anything. But there's a difference between expanding on an idea and doing something new with it, and simply adding something to an old story without doing anything with it. To me, The Gilded Girl is the latter, because if you take away the fantastical elements, it's basically a carbon copy of A Little Princess that makes absolutely no attempt to do anything new with its premise or stand on its own two feet. From what I understand, this is the writer's debut novel, and...it shows. Here's hoping she can write better, more polished novels in the future. Honestly, I'd skip The Gilded Girl, as there are plenty of other novels that do this same premise better, or don't try to shamelessly rip it off.