We review Victoria Aveyard’s “King’s Cage”, the third installment in the best-selling “Red Queen” series.
King’s Cage is the highly anticipated third book in Victoria Aveyard’s best-selling Red Queen series. This saga follows the struggles of two warring demographic groups in the Kingdom of Norta. Silvers, who have special enhanced abilities, rule the land, while Reds, who do not, are left to live as slaves and fodder for the Silver armies. Mare Barrow represents a different future for her kingdom: a Red with Silver abilities, she is now a leader in the rebellion working to overthrow the status quo.
That is possibly the worst general summary of this series ever. But if you’ve made it this far, you’re either already a fan of the Red Queen books, or you’re curious enough that you should just go start back at the beginning now. As the third book in an ongoing saga, this book really just expects you to jump right back into things. (That’s not a bad thing, for the record.)
On the whole, King’s Cage is an enjoyable read, particularly if you’re already emotionally invested in the story of Mare, Cal, Maven and company. Unfortunately, it does suffer from a bit of sequel-itis. This is third book in what is looking to be at least a four-book series. And it definitely feels like a middle installment in a larger story. It clocks in at over five hundred pages and probably doesn’t need to be quite as long as it is. But it’s an exhilarating, exciting read – I tore through it in less than 36 hours – and definitely leaves you wanting to know what happens next.
The World Finally Expands Beyond Norta
By placing Mare in captivity, you’d think that the story of King’s Cage would contract. But that’s not what happens at all. We actually learn more about Norta’s political landscape, its ruling families, and its history than ever before. Sure, we have to leave Mare behind occasionally to do that (more on that later), but it’s so worth it.
For all that the Red Queen series has constantly been positioned as largely a story of rebellion, the stakes haven’t always felt global. Here we finally get a better look at the politics of Aveyard’s fantasy world. We meet members of other High Houses. We learn about their allegiances. The story takes us to different cities. It even progresses outside Norta’s borders to explore neighboring kingdoms. We meet many new people from different cultures, including several intriguing folks with abilities eerily similar to Mare’s, and a rather charming elected leader of a neighboring country.
The world of King’s Cage feels much larger than in previous books. And this is a good thing. If we’re going to watch our heroes fight a war to change the world, we should know what it looks like.
We Get Additional POV Characters
For the first time in this series, Aveyard embraces the rotating POV format that’s so prevalent in YA fiction these days. Since so many stories nowadays do this, I should be used to it by now. And yet. To be honest, I was ready to complain a lot about this decision. After all, Mare’s been our guide for the first two books in the series. It’s her journey that’s most important to us as readers. That said, by the end of King’s Cage, it worked for me – if only because it allowed us to see further into the world of Norta beyond just Mare’s perspective.
The narrative switch understandable, given the fact that Mare spends the first 200 pages or so of King’s Cage imprisoned. It makes sense to use another voice to tell the bits of the story happening elsewhere. Unfortunately, she picks a terrible second narrator in Cameron, another hybrid “newblood”, who is incredibly irritating and unlikeable. Perhaps we’re meant to sympathize with her as another outsider perspective in the war for Norta’s future, but honestly? Her personality is so grating. And there are so many others I’d rather hear from in her place. (Your mileage may vary, obviously.)
The saving grace of this narrative shift shows up in the back half of the novel, when a third POV character appears. We suddenly get a brand new perspective from a person we thought we already knew. And it’s awesome. These segments are some of my favorites in the whole book. They not only give us increased insight on a largely mysterious figure, but a deeper understanding of other relationships. I wish this person had more chapters in which to talk to us. Because now I want to know everything possible about their motives, their relationships and their plans.
That Cliffhanger, Though
Let me just say this plainly: The last 150 pages of King’s Cage more than make up for the novel’s slow start. It’s probably worth discussing whether we needed to spend quite so many pages dedicated to Mare’s torture and depression. And the fact that so much of the first half of the novel is dedicated to trying to sort out Mare’s weird Stockholm Syndrome-esque feelings for her ex with no real clarity afterward is also frustrating. But when you’re at you’re most irritated with those pieces of the story? Keep reading. Because it gets a lot better.
After a final climactic battle between a reshuffled set of friends and foes, King’s Cage drops an extremely shocking ending twist. But at the same time, it also feels strangely inevitable. And it certainly does queue up a lot of questions for the next book in the series. Probably even more so than Glass Sword did. Almost every major character has become considerably darker over the course of this novel, in ways that make their future actions much harder to predict. And bonus plot twist: the ending cliffhanger revolves around a character I’ve always seen as boring at best and a cipher at worst. I’m thrilled. They’re finally going to get interesting!
Sure, a lot of King’s Cage feels like an exercise in preparing for the series’ conclusion in the next book of this series. (If the Red Queen saga is even going to end with Book 4. We’re still not positive on that.) But fans of the series will definitely enjoy the ride.