King’s Cage spoilers below. If you haven’t finished the book, come back when you have!
To have ended the wait after such a long cliffhanger, King’s Cage started out slow. We learned some intriguing and terrible things about Maven’s past, but at times, I couldn’t help but feel like I was being imprisoned and suffocated right along with Mare—I kept flipping ahead to see when the rescue was coming. But while the first half of the book certainly could have been condensed, the action scenes in King’s Cage were electrifying (sorry—Mare started it). The rescue, when it did come, had me punching the air in excitement, and the battle scene at the end of the book was epic while it lasted, sort of like Helm’s Deep with magic. The best moments in this series have always been those gripping moments when the Silvers’ and Newbloods’ abilities are on display, and Aveyard does not forget it in King’s Cage, even giving us the Mare/Cal spar we never knew how badly we wanted. This book, predictably, never quite managed to stop feeling like another setup piece for the final installment, but it was vastly better than Glass Sword, and there are several good things worth discussing, particularly where the characters are concerned.
Shocked to see me? -Mare
Aveyard made a bold move in her new point-of-view character choices. Instead of taking the predictable route of giving Cal a POV, she chose Cameron and Evangeline, who were both only really tertiary characters before this book. At first, it felt a bit foreign—we would have settled much more naturally into viewing the world from Cal’s perspective since we know him so well. But as Cameron’s narrative went on, it became a rather brilliant device that enriched not only the existing story, but even Mare’s own narrative. Most importantly, it gave us insight about Mare’s mistakes from another, more grounded (I seriously can’t stop) character. Cameron first came into the book telling hard truths that Mare didn’t want to hear, and now she gives us an astonishingly profound interpretation of how Mare went wrong in Glass Sword. And most importantly, she still likes her, which somehow makes it a bit easier for readers to forgive Mare. Furthermore, it’s fun to hear the inaccurate information Cameron has about some of the events of Red Queen, which speaks to the subjectivity of truth, a common theme in these books. Finally, Cameron’s narration is surprisingly fun. I couldn’t get enough of her referring to Cal as “His Bleeding Royal Highness,” and getting to know her as a character was genuinely enjoyable.
Such power—it frightens me. It makes me wonder what I could become. I think of Mare, the way she ricocheted between violent rage and numb detachment. Is that the price of abilities like ours? Do we have to choose—become empty, or become monsters? -Cameron
The addition of Evangeline as a POV character was equally unexpected and equally well-utilized, though in different ways. The main purpose here is so we know what’s happening with this new, third side of the conflict—the Samos kingdom. But Evangeline, too, proved to be an interesting character to get to know on a deeper level. She was highly unpleasant in Red Queen, but you find yourself understanding her much better in King’s Cage, just like Maven. Aveyard does a fine job adding dimension to her characters in this book, which is quite a relief after the character development wasteland that was Glass Sword.
I feel trapped inside myself. Make him choose, Mare. Make him turn me aside. -Evangeline
King’s Cage gave Mare some much-needed character redemption. It was very hard to root for her in the first and especially the second book, when she made one poor decision after the next. Now, that doesn’t mean watching her realize everything we readers already knew was particularly enjoyable. It was necessary for Aveyard to redeem her, but it still feels unnecessary to have made her that unbelievably senseless in the first place. Of course shutting herself off from everyone who loved her was a bad idea. Of course ignoring every feeling that made her human and turning herself into a cold, uncaring weapon was a mistake. Did we really have to spend a whole two books doing this?
Putting my grievances with Glass Sword-Mare aside, I did enjoy her quite a bit more in King’s Cage. I knew things were better from the moment she started stealing medals and pins right off of Maven’s uniform and stowing them under her bed. She becomes Mare Barrow of the Stilts again, and relishes it. She both uses and pities Maven, which we can forgive, and shocks us all with some cheesy lightning puns. She even learns her own heart, and stops trying to convince herself that Cal means nothing to her but some extra firepower, which leaves her vulnerable and, at the end of the book, heartbroken. What she does next will tell us more about the true Mare than anything she did in the last two books.
I thought Cal was immune to the corruptive temptation of power. How wrong I was. -Mare
We need to talk about Cal. I adore Cal. I know some Maven fans find him dull, but he actually demonstrates all the signs of a well-developed character. He’s so much more than a prop-doll love interest; he’s flawed. He lacks backbone, he’s often naïve, he leaves his options open for far too long instead of making decisions and acting, and even when he does make decisions, he doesn’t always commit to them fully. But the fire prince has a good heart, and he values people and human life in general more than most of the characters in these books. He knows he loves Mare, even though he admits in Glass Sword that he really doesn’t know why (I feel ya, Cal). But what’s important here is that he doesn’t exist purely as Mare’s love interest. He has his own motivations and self outside his role as designated YA boyfriend. He knows the Scarlet Guard isn’t perfect, and let’s face it—he’s right. He didn’t abandon his responsibilities for Mare in Red Queen, and he doesn’t abandon his identity for her in this book, either. Readers may not agree with his final decision in King’s Cage, but we should be able to empathize with it. Cal has been used and betrayed at every turn, first by his own blood, then by Mare, then by the Scarlet Guard. He knows neither side is innocent in this conflict, and he thinks he sees a third option that might be better, that might give him the power stop the bloodshed and treat everyone well—which he truly wants to do—and he took that route. So yes, he is tempted by power, but it’s not at all in the same way that Maven is. Of course, Cal is being naïve, as usual, and he will just get used again, but he was raised as Tiberias the Seventh, and, painful as they may be, his actions perfectly match his character. For that, I commend Aveyard.
Overall, this was a far better read than Glass Sword, and I’m eagerly awaiting the final installment.
4 out of 5 stars