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King’s Cage (Red Queen, #3) by Victoria Aveyard

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“Somewhere in the distance, somewhere in my bones, thunder rolls.”

If Red Queen was a game of charade and Glass Sword was a game changer, then King’s Cage is a reincarnation of the two, manipulation and war and survival and politics woven into its essence, but on a whole other level. No longer a hide and seek playground, but a chessboard where powerful masterminds control kings and queens and princes and princesses and many, many pawns to fight for the ultimate trophy — the throne of Norta. Organized chaos that was delicious to watch unfold.

Glass Sword ended with a jaw-dropping twist that meant the focus in this continuation will transfer to the dynamic between Mare and Maven. I stopped comparing Maven and The Darkling a long time ago and rightfully so — whereas with The Darkling I always felt an inkling of hope for redemption, with Maven there is only the clinical dissecting of his behavior and attitudes that give no room for such innocent naivety. What brought me emotionally to my knees was not the revelation that he really is a pawn through and through, even after his mother’s death, but that he is aware of it and he accepts his damned fate, molding to the villain persona by his own accord. He is a four-geared system that runs on hate, anger, fear and twisted love. Maven is a victim and you cannot help but feel pity for him. The what ifs of what he could have become without Elara’s interference are a stark reminder that monsters are made, not born.

“The pain makes you stronger. Love makes you weak.”

Maven’s obsession with Mare is another side-effect. It’s honestly so sad to watch his inability to change and to love normally. His mind is perpetually assaulted by paranoia and loneliness, continuously eating at his ghost of a soul. He astounds through his cunningness and cleverness, many underestimating him. But he is his mother’s son, after all, and the legacy leaves behind both scars and advantages. Mare is the one that knows him best and they use each other to survive a royal cage that, paradoxically, suffocates them both.

Mare Barrow goes through her biggest character development yet. Our heroine grows so much, even through trauma. I love that, despite the fact that she has been put through hell, she doesn’t let herself get sucked into the void. She still smiles, she still loves, she doesn’t lose hope. Her sparks, even though kept away in tangible form, reside inside herself and allow her to live. And I loved the fact that she is portrayed in fear lots of time — it doesn’t make her weak, on the contrary; the fear brings out her deepest survival instincts, giving her a shot of winning the battle against greater opponents that loom over her shoulder. Much like Maven. And goddamn it, she fights, with her mind, with her body. She fights to not become a skeleton trapped in a prison, mentally and physically.

I also adored her demeanor towards Maven, taking advantage of his weakness for her, but always trying to bring him on the right path. Their dialogue is beautiful, mirroring two broken souls, trying to outsmart each other. They find refuge in one another, no matter how twisted and toxic. And Mare, at least, finally gets a clearer picture about this plague of a boy.

“She was his hurricane, and every nudge pulled him deeper into the eye of the storm.”

May I please fangirl about Cal? This romantic, strong, intelligent, caring, naive, hot, intense, good fucKING SILVER PRINCE THAT TAKES THE WRONG DECISION AND CANNOT CUT THE CRAP OF THOSE WHO WANT TO USE HIM AND CANNOT KEEP HIS PROMISES. Sorry. That must have been a bit harsh. But it’s the truth. I honestly love him to bits. His love for Mare turns me to a blubbering mess. His hope for Maven is crushing. His friendship with Kilorn warms my heart. But fucking hell he’s still Prince Tiberias the Seventh and his identity bites everyone in the ass, especially himself. AND HE’S A GODDAMN STUPID IDIOT. Okay, I’m done ranting.

“It’s not his fault the lightning girl loves him, and he must bear the curse that love brings with it.”

The romance between this sweet yet insufferable young man and our dearest Mare melted my heart. The mutual support, the understanding, the goofiness, the sexiness, the courage to break stereotypes… ALL OF IT is just wonderful. *sigh*

I need to give lots of claps for one character in particular, or rather Aveyard’s flawless constructing of it, making me feel something I have never contemplated in the first two books: love for Evangeline Samos. However, don’t imagine something along the lines of the sudden angelic rendering of Celeste in The One, for instance. Far from it. Evangeline is still the quintessential bitch. But I adored how she upgraded from a mere queen-wannabe that has only arrogance, ambition and jealousy as main traits to a deeply intriguing, multi-layered and surprising anti-heroine. Again, readers can regard her as another one who was made. Made for being a queen, made for being perfect, made for her family’s well being. We have her POV as well, not necessarily as a mechanism to see from a different perspective, but to offer further glimpses into a universe governed by politics, secrets, manipulation and, of course, power. Throughout it all, she remains strong as steel, kickass and terrifying, splendid when she is gradually humanized through the unraveling of her desires and fears in a manner that highlights her internal conflict: freedom and love or duty and submission?

“Be the best, the strongest, the smartest, the most deadly and the most cunning. The most worthy. And I was everything.”

As usual, the secondary characters pretty much rocked. Farley is awesome. Julian is awesome. Sara is awesome. Kilorn, we don’t see as much, but he is comforting in a familiar way. The whole Samos family is pretty much badass in a disturbing way and I devoured their scenes. The Colonel, a Premier named Davidson, newbloods, Reds and Silvers alike expand the borders of what we previously knew. Old queens, new kings, ruthless princes and princesses and faraway commanders make up the backbone of the Lakelands, Piedmont, Montfort and, of course, Norta, forging the world-building aspect.

The rhythm had some off-beats here and there. Personally, I associated them with Cameron’s POV. She was a bit hard to stomach, even though she is definitely the no-bullshit type. Progressively, I learned to like her, but the reason why I cut down on the rating is partly thanks to her as well. The other motive is the fact that Mare’s imprisonment to Maven, although seductive and psychologically-embedded, was slow-burning in a frustrating way, grating on my nerves for the lack of action. It was like I was simultaneously wasting away along Mare, unable to speed up the process.

The ending of this book left my heart in shambles, because I saw it coming miles away. Didn’t lessen the pain though. It leaves the story at a precarious tipping point, a crossroads of a sort, with certain revelations confirming what I’ve been dreading: the last book will equate to death. As a dedicated fangirl, I fear for my mental stability after the next installment closes the story.

King’s Cage is a great follow-up in a thrilling and exciting series. The story of this novel will have resounding echoes in the last book (ohmygodjustonemorebook). The grand, masterful blend of action and politics and romance had my head spinning, awed, and the characters infuse a unique vibe to an already mesmerizing mix of dystopia and fantasy. I cannot recommend these books enough.


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