King's Cage by Victoria Aveyard
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
"You need to watch me beg and lose it all."
-The Dear Hunter, "Never Forgive Never Forget"
"Wake to see your true emancipation is a fantasy
Politics have risen up and overcome the brave
You don't have long, I am on to you
The time, it has come to destroy your supremacy!"
Rise, red as the dawn.
All aboard the Aveyardian Hype Train once again, my friends, and you know I'm never getting off this one. Red Queen was a lavish dystopian with a fantasy twist, and Glass Sword was a fast-paced war story that even now, a year after I blazed through that book in one day and have now completed the long-awaited sequel, I still absolutely loathed that cliffhanger and will never stop citing it as one of the most aggravating scenes in YA history.
And now, finally, the third entry in the series - which would have been the end of a trilogy when the series was first announced, but Aveyard's promising one more book after this one. I can only imagine the heights she would take us to there, but for now, King's Cage proves to be the high-water mark, the Aveyardian platinum standard to date. And I thought Glass Sword's master-class TASM 2 blend of electricon action and nymph-powering feels couldn't be topped...
But now, Aveyard is no master. She's an expert.
The first two books were quite lacking in world-building - especially considering they both lacked a world map of Norta and further. All we got up to that point was this, printed only in Target editions of Cruel Crown as I remember:
But now, Aveyard raises the world-building stakes by including an expanded world map, extending as far as the land of Montfort in the Rockies, which I found myself frequently consulting as I read the book, as all fantasy readers should. Because for the first time, Aveyard takes readers beyond Norta and the Lakelands, into Piedmont with references to the greater Lakelands, Tiraxes, the Prairies, and Montfort. The map is still incomplete, of course - I'm hoping less for an Allegiant situation where the West Coast remains mostly untouched by society as it resettles and more for a Revolution situation where we know there's a California Commonwealth, but we're always waiting in vain to see it.
Then there's the story contained within this far-future post-apocalyptic Divided States Of America. The infamous Aveyardian cliffhanger of Glass Sword left us with Mare forced to kneel before Maven, that disgusting, manipulative piece of Backpfeifengesicht shit you would sooner scrape off the heel of your boot than kneel before. Naturally, with the book's first three chapters showing poor Mare stuck without her powers or her dignity, perpetually on parade, this riled me up into what can only be described as blistering regicidal rage.
These moments, of course were tempered by an understanding that as much as Glass Sword jumped into the series' Mockingjay phase right away, it was really more of a Mockingjay Part 1 with significantly less focus on psychological warfare. That focus comes into play here in King's Cage, which showcases on so many levels how much even Maven, having inherited a generations-long war, is manipulated by the horrors perpetuated by those who ruled before him, especially Queen Elara. Not that it makes me sympathize with him - Mare doesn't either, thank God, because she's like me, unwilling to romanticize the Darkling-esque villain even if he used to be a good guy, and/or had good in him that's been horribly weakened like Darth Vader or Kylo Ren.
In between the scenes of Mare's captivity, we get POV chapters told by Cameron, a power-cancelling newblood who appeared in the last quarter or so of Glass Sword. Thank God I picked up beautiful hardcover copies of the first two books along with this one (an exorbitant purchase setting me back fifty bucks in total - I'll just make up for it by not buying anything else for the rest of the month, at least until I sell off other books I no longer read), because I actually forgot who Cameron was until I started reading her first POV chapter - and after rediscovering her, not only did I regret forgetting her, but I very much enjoyed her POV more than Mare's, because as much as I love Mare, Cameron has more personality and is even more of a badass. I knew there would be additional POVs besides Mare's going in, and while I was sort of expecting it to be Cal, I'm actually glad Aveyard didn't go with him, because it would feel a little too much Veronica Roth-like - I'm especially thinking about Tris and Tobias splitting narration duties in Allegiant here, which, while not unwanted, did feel pretty indistinguishable on the surface in hindsight. The big surprise, however, is that Aveyard gives us not one, not two, but three different POV characters throughout this book. Mare, Cameron...and Evangeline, whose POV only appears in the latter half of the book, but is very important because it gives us some insight into the Silver mindset, which Aveyard hasn't dabbled in since Queen Song. The three different POVs all give this book pretty good diversity points as well - maybe not so much Mare (she's olive-skinned, but then again, I write my own protagonist Alex Snow as an olive-skinned Caucasian boy), but for sure Cameron, being black, and Evangeline, being a lesbian.
In between all three POVs, Aveyard weaves a complex, deadly, and oh-so-morally-grey web of President Snow's favorite game: moves and countermoves.
Maven's real goal in this book, in addition to contaminating the minds of his subjects with what old Kellyanne Conway would call "alternative facts" and obsessively trying to keep Mare collected and captured like a butterfly, is to end the long, long war between Norta and the Lakelands in order to cement an alliance against the Scarlet Guard (who are said to be backed by the democratic government of Montfort, whose location in the Rockies reminds me of the Capitol vs. District 13, but geographically in reverse). The first big step in this plan is to approach the king of the Lakelands (who, when described by Mare, made my jaw drop because he looks exactly like Alex Snow as an adult, right down to his hydrokinetic nymph power), and any further information will inevitably lead to massive spoilers.
But I can tell you this much - while George R.R. Martin takes his sweet time writing the remainder of A Song of Ice and Fire, it's Aveyard who gives us the Game of Thrones really worth watching, because with the developments in the second half of this book, as well as the surprisingly shattering epilogue (not so much an enraging cliffhanger this time, thank God), it's going to be an absolute two-tone bloodbath for the finale, and no refunds if Aveyard doesn't deliver. For sure, that one will be an auto-buy for me - I'll be marching my ass to the nearest store on its book birthday and shelling out the necessary Washingtons, Lincolns, and/or Hamiltons (and Jacksons, if I have to spend one or two of those too) to purchase it.
But still. That ending, though. Like I said, less blistering regicidal rage from me this time around, and more "Victoria Aveyard, why must you abuse my feels so?"
Seriously, remember how Shade died? That's what the ending of King's Cage will do to you.
Go into this book and feel emboldened by the Hillary Clinton quote at the beginning. Come out raw with feels, but still emboldened because the true message of this book, and the entire Red Queen series, is a resounding affirmation of American values which we all need now more than ever. As the Grounders on The 100 would say, "Ge smak daun, gyon op nodataim." As Cap would say, "You get killed, walk it off...if you step through that door, you're an Avenger."
And as the Scarlet Guard would say,
Rise, red as the dawn.
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