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KING'S CAGE

A novel by Victoria Aveyard
(2017, HarperTeen)

Red Queen, book 3
 
 

Imprisoned in the King’s palace, Mare watches the court divide over Maven, while coming to terms with her old life and who she wants to be.

 
 
 
   

-- First reading (hardcover)
August 7th to 23rd, 2023

 
   

I found this book to be significantly better than the previous ones. While it started out very similar to the others, with a main character who didn’t impress me much, the story turned around fairly early. I was also surprised with the risk the author took, keeping most of the book in the palace, and within Mare’s head. It could have gone boring quickly, but instead, she grew as a character, realizing the kind of person she was, and not liking it. Escape attempts, murder attempts and jealousy add spice to the palace world, and we get external character points of view that show us what Mare can’t know. The final battle was action-packed, and exciting, leading to a political shift. Compared with some of the novels I’ve read recently, this author does a great job conveying the story in easily flowing, appropriate words and sentences. Even in parts of the story that I wasn’t particularly fond of, the writing kept me engrossed. There was a little too much use of “if I thought this, I was wrong” or “if he expected anything else, he was going to be disappointed”, but I guess that’s a minor complaint when looking at the prose together as a whole. I complained in the last book about too much angst, and that was a lot more tempered here. I wish more authors would polish their writing like this.

Spoiler review:

This story takes up in the same instant that the previous book ended, with Mare being forced to kneel at Maven’s feet. She’s then dragged into the palace and chained to a cell, where she spends three quarters of the book, hampered by power-dampening Ardents and silent stone floors. It’s a concept that could have worn thin very quickly, as the author takes the book’s title literally. I wondered how long she could keep Mare closed up in her cell, with only thoughts of revenge going through her head, but it was managed skillfully.

There was the mandatory disruption, resisting the Ardents and everything Maven wanted from her. But then we got to see a bit more about what was driving Maven, broken as Mare says, by his mother, who forced him to develop the way she thought he should have, strengthening some bonds and weakening others as she whispered into his mind and changed it. Maven is a slave, and is caged just as much as Mare.

As the book started, I was resigned to more of the same teenaged angst as in the first two books, especially the second one, where Mare was barely likeable, but not a character we could love to hate, either. Here, stripped of her powers, and with an awareness that she didn’t have before her powers manifested, she observes the court, the relationships, the jealousies. Most of all, she sees that Maven still loves her, in a twisted way. He won’t marry Evangeline because he loves her. He brings her out in front of the court to impress her, though everybody else sees it as weakness. The court around Maven is ready to explode in another coup, and Mare needles Maven at every opportunity she gets, digging into his need for her, weakening his spirit, cracking his inner fašade.

But he reminded me a lot of King Geoffrey from A Game of Thrones when he was in public. Knowing that she was weakening him, he would snap back into the merciless tyrant when she went too far.

On the outside, we get an additional point of view to tell us how the struggle against oppression continues, even as Mare is kept prisoner for six months. Cameron, the girl rescued from the prison near the end of the last book, has the ability to strip away a person’s power like an Ardent, but to continue stripping away a person’s life-force after that, killing them. She practices with the Scarlet Guard only because she wants to rescue her brother; after that, she plans to leave and make a secure place for them where they cannot be used as slaves in wars for their lives or their special powers.

Cal is restless without Mare, and Cameron notes that he really is the Prince who can’t make decisions, as Maven once said. When somebody points him in the right direction, he’ll do everything in his power to get it done, but he can’t choose a side. She also notes that he was born to be king. When rumors of a silver rebellion reach their ears, and he denies wanting to be king, he does it in a way that is very kingly. People flock to him, listen to him.

So when they attack a silver garrison that is divided about Maven’s rule, and she finds that her brother has been taken as a hostage to secure the freedom of the remaining silvers hiding away, Cameron is forced to do something, even when Cal can’t commit. Taking along a projectionist, who makes everyone inside the tower believe they are under attack from airships, Cameron sneaks inside and rescues her brother and the other reds, ripping through two strongarms with barely a thought. Her brother, though, has been fed lies about the Scarlet Guard and the newbloods, and turns away from her. It’s one of the few unresolved plot points in the book, and I wonder if it will be addressed in the final one.

To impress Mare, Maven takes newbloods into his army, blind to the threat they represent, and built on the lies that the Scarlet Guard will kill all newbloods and reds in general. When some of the royal houses rebel and try to kill Maven, this security increases, but he goes just a little more insane. Bereft of allies, Maven strikes a deal with the Lakelanders, and takes Mare along on his peace tour. After her failed escape attempt, where she managed to get out of the silent stone, her guards are more vigilant than ever.

Maven throws away his engagement to Evalgeline, whom Mare has seen growing more and more restless as she sees the crown disappearing from her reach, by cementing his deal with the Lakelanders with a marriage to the King’s daughter. This causes the loyalty of House Samos to break, and at the wedding ceremony, as the Scarlet Guard attacks, helped by the newbloods planted in Maven’s army, Evengeline turns Mare loose, hoping to kill Maven.

Evengeline’s point of view is very interesting, and she ends up being a character that I loved to hate. She forces her way into Mare’s cell (though I doubt that would actually work), she parades Mare around the palace several times, once bringing her to Maven’s bath to prove a point. Her lover is a healer, who brings Mare’s powers back, so she can wreak havoc in the ongoing battle. Maven escapes, but Mare is forced to battle Cal as a whisperer takes control of their minds one by one, until they kill him. Meanwhile, Evengeline finds her brother and they escape to their own lands, where her father allies with other rebelling Houses and crowns himself King. For Evengeline, it’s a consolation because her brother will marry her lover, where they can always be together, and Evengeline will marry someone else, her lover always nearby.

The most interesting part of the book takes place in the palace, but it was nice to see Mare break free and become a completely different person from who she was in the last two books. The author did a great job changing her personality from the na´ve Mare in Red Queen, to the obsessive Mare in Glass Sword. Now she’s determined, but experienced. Hardened probably into the warrior that’s needed in the final book.

We get some downtime to catch up with Farley’s pregnancy, Mare’s family, Cal’s love (Mare and Cal finally make love in this book), and the political manipulations of the nations outside of Norta. Banding together with the rebelling silver Houses, they make a final stand at Corvium, the garrison that was attacked earlier, and which Maven wants to take back. While it could have felt like an X-Men story at this point, with everyone using their special powers to attack or defend, the author did a good job in keeping the focus on Mare and her new desire to keep her friends safe (as opposed to using them as weapons in the last book).

With the last-minute rescue by the rebelling silver Houses, who were probably hoping that more reds would die before their belated arrival, the garrison tower is held. Then comes the meeting between the leaderships of the Scarlet Guard, the rebelling Houses, and the Kingdom of Steel with King Samos. The tension is well-played, from Evengeline’s point of view. She calls forth a red servant, then forces the girl to clean up her broken glass, watching Mare and the Scarlet Guard fume. She doesn’t want to marry Cal, but that’s the price of overthrowing Maven as part of this coalition. So she makes Mare squirm.

Mare, for her part, asks Cal to choose her over the crown, but as Cameron noted before, he was born to be King, and no matter what his heart wants to do, he can’t shy away from the union. So Mare leaves him, but it’s not the first time, and I wonder if the choice will be forced from him once again.

By far, my favorite parts of the book were when Mare was incarcerated, and she saw herself from the outside, as well as getting into Maven’s mind, and for a tiny bit, Evengeline’s also. I was less interested once she was rescued, but fortunately the battle that closed out the book was exciting and gave relevance to her time in the King’s Cage.

 
   

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