Released on February 7th, 2017, King’s Cage is the third book in Victoria Aveyard’s popular Red Queen series. The book picks up almost immediately after the conclusion of Glass Sword, which left Mare captured by Maven, and left her companions, including Cal, Kilorn, Farley, the rest of the newbloods and the rebellion reeling as they push forward against impossible odds.
When the Lightning Girl’s spark is gone, who will light the way for the rebellion? Mare Barrow is a prisoner, powerless without her lightning, tormented by her lethal mistakes. She lives at the mercy of a boy she once loved, a boy made of lies and betrayal. Now a king, Maven Calore continues weaving his dead mother’s web in an attempt to maintain control over his country—and his prisoner. As Mare bears the weight of Silent Stone in the palace, her once-ragtag band of newbloods and Reds continue organizing, training, and expanding. They prepare for war, no longer able to linger in the shadows. And Cal, the exiled prince with his own claim on Mare’s heart, will stop at nothing to bring her back. When blood turns on blood, and ability on ability, there may be no one left to put out the fire—leaving Norta as Mare knows it to burn all the way down (Chapters.Indigo.ca).
Like most everyone who has read Red Queen, Glass Sword and/or Cruel Crown, I was very eager to get my hands on King’s Cage – so much so that I was at the store before it even opened on February 7th (totally by accident – I got their hours mixed up!), much to the confusion of the lady at the bookstore (who also informed me that this must be a popular book – they’ve already got a ton of pre-orders put away!). And the hype is well deserved. Where Glass Sword fell short, King’s Cage shines, an excellent example of Aveyard’s writing and why I fell in love with this series in the first place. King’s Cage is heart-breaking, soul-crushing, and utterly beautiful, from the first page to the very last.
Mare’s humanity shines through in this, once hidden by a hard demeanor, and Aveyard’s cast of characters shines along with her as they navigate an increasingly complex political conflict that is escalating to full blown war. Mare’s broken – she’s lost and hurting as she struggles to find her way back to herself – but slowly realizing that who she had become after Maven’s initial betrayal wasn’t who she wanted to be at all. And as she heals, she slowly comes to understand that she must be something else – something more – if she’s to overcome the evil down the hall. If she’s to exact her own, very personal, revenge.
Let’s talk about Maven. Maven’s descent into madness utterly destroyed me – like Cal, I was still holding on to some shred of hope that after Elara’s death, he would find his way back from the darkness that engulfed him. I was wrong. He stands by as Mare wastes away, a result of her confinement, ongoing torture and exposure to Silent Stone. Yet his obsession with her never wavers, and its completely creepy. It is perhaps this obsession that cemented my hatred for him – in particular, the scene where he kissed Mare without her consent, forcing himself upon her, even in a small way. As a prisoner, broken and weak, she could not refuse him, and this simple act, for me overshadowed his other crimes (of which there are many, don’t worry). Really, Mare was totally justified in wanting to leave his corpse behind.
And then there’s Cal – the exiled Silver prince who fell in love with the lightning girl, and who now faces an impossible decision – abandon his people to save Mare, or abandon Mare to protect his people. The Red Rebellion wants his help to overthrow the ruling government – as a trained military tactician, he’s more than qualified. But as a Silver, can he truly bring himself to abandon those people he was raised to protect, even if it is to save the girl he loves? It’s a difficult, perhaps impossible, choice, and throughout King’s Cage, Cal toes the line, trying to stay neutral, but still achieve his goals and protect everyone around him – turning away from the leader he was raised to be.
King’s Cage certainly has lots of action, but one of the things that made this book so successful was Aveyard’s portrayal of the characters’ more personal struggles – Mare’s struggle with who she has become, Maven’s struggle with his growing madness, and Cal’s struggle to understand who he wants to be. Furthermore, their relationships were just as heart-wrenching as their personal struggles – for example, Mare’s friendship with Kilorn, her love for her siblings and her family, and her romance with Cal. In particular, Mare and Cal’s relationship, which is arguably central to the plot of King’s Cage, is everything I could have wanted. There’s still an imbalance between the two of them, and plenty of hurt, but they’re still trying to find their way back to one another, and once they do, their relationship is far from perfect, but everything the reader could want. Right up until that final heartbreaking decision. Their humanity, and their very human reactions, in the face of insurmountable odds, make King’s Cage an exceptional novel, in that Aveyard has blended both the public and personal problems into a cohesive story.
The plot of this book may seem a bit all over the place – and in some ways, it is. With Mare disconnected from the outside world, there’s huge gaps in the plot, especially from Cal’s end. There’s a lot going on, but the reader simply isn’t privy to the details, because the characters who are witness to the story aren’t privy to the details. Instead, the reader learns the details as the characters do, and there’s a certain thrill to being completely surprised by a rescue attempt, or by a grand betrayal. And by the end, the bigger picture has come clearly into view, filling in the plot holes and gaps in knowledge, bringing the reader into the fold as Aveyard deftly reveals the master plan.
Overall, King’s Cage was, in my mind, Aveyard’s strongest piece yet. Aveyard seamlessly married action and human struggle, a difficult feat in the Young Adult Fantasy genre, and she did so (seemingly) with ease. Mare, Cal and Maven are the perfect protagonists and antagonist (respectively), with the prior two being definite grey characters, as they sort through their own personal struggles, and the latter being a wounded, broken antagonist that it utterly evil, yet somehow still worth the reader’s pity. King’s Cage is certainly worth the read, and is not to be missed (4.5/5).