Series: The Cage #1
Genre: Mystery, Sci-Fi, YA
Publication date: May 26, 2015
by Balzer & Bray
When Cora Mason wakes in a desert, she doesn't know where she is or who put her there. As she explores, she finds an impossible mix of environments—tundra next to desert, farm next to jungle, and a strangely empty town cobbled together from different cultures—all watched over by eerie black windows. And she isn't alone.
Four other teenagers have also been taken: a beautiful model, a tattooed smuggler, a secretive genius, and an army brat who seems to know too much about Cora's past. None of them have a clue as to what happened, and all of them have secrets. As the unlikely group struggles for leadership, they slowly start to trust each other. But when their mysterious jailer—a handsome young guard called Cassian—appears, they realize that their captivity is more terrifying than they could ever imagine: Their captors aren't from Earth. And they have taken the five teenagers for an otherworldly zoo—where the exhibits are humans.
As a forbidden attraction develops between Cora and Cassian, she realizes that her best chance of escape might be in the arms of her own jailer—though that would mean leaving the others behind. Can Cora manage to save herself and her companions? And if so . . . what world lies beyond the walls of their cage?
-A copy was provided by Balzer + Bray for review-
Gah, I’m not sure what to think about this book. One one hand, I feel like it’s definitely unique and refreshing, partaking on a sci-fi idea and molding it into something new. On the other hand, it had a lot of things that made me raise my eyebrow, want to bang my head on a wall, and gouge my eyes out.
Let’s get one thing straight, though: the writing is mad awesome. It’s been a while since I’ve read such beautiful writing that reads like a sweet harmony, as if reading it is like listening to angelic music. I have heard of the author’s writing prowess in reviews of her previous series The Madman’s Daughter, but now I am a firm believer. The narration and how the words were connected and weaved to tell a story were enough to glue me to the pages, enough to make me suspend my disbelief about a group of teens being chosen by super intelligent extraterrestrial aliens to procreate in a controlled, alien-made, human-like “habitat” in the middle of literal space-nowhere.
An alien zoo. In space. For humans.
I know, I know; you’re probably thinking, “Holy crapadoodle, that is kind of stretching it!” AND I WAS LIKE THAT AT FIRST, but after reading along and getting a taste of Shepherd’s writing and how effectively she set up the atmosphere and the setting, it became really interesting and refreshing to the point that I kept reading just to find out what our band of unfortunate special teenagers will do to get out of their bizarre situation. The way the “habitat” was described – how it was a mash-up of different cultures and landscapes, how every direction always led back to the starting point, how their meals were a mix of different things (tuna with chocolate sauce? That’s not even the least bit exciting!). It was just downright creepy. And the fact that you have aliens with dark, black eyes and metallic bronze skin looking at you at well concealed viewing panels? CREEPIER.
So, yes, big props to the writing and the atmosphere and how it made me want to check my windows in case there are aliens hiding behind that tree. I don’t want to be abducted. NOT WHEN THERE ARE STILL SO MANY BOOKS TO READ.
Unfortunately, there were some things that made me raise an eyebrow. Let’s talk about the romance. Heck, let’s talk about that absolutely jarring love triangle: Cora, Lucky, and that mysterious alien who has admitted to watching her for a long time, Cassian. While I don’t always find love triangles painful, this one was simply so… bizarre. First of all, it creeped me out that Cora kept saying Cassian had the most beautiful face she has ever seen (like an angel) despite the fact that 1.) he is an alien; 2.) he and his kind abducted her from her home planet and put her in an enclosure where they study every pixel of her; 3.) THEY FUCKING ABDUCTED HER; and 4.) HE IS A MOTHERFUCKING GODDAMN ALIEN, CORA. AN ALIEN WHO TREAT Y’ALL LIKE YOU’RE A BUNCHA EXPERIMENTS TO BE PRODDED AND EXAMINED.
I mean, the fact that she just kept saying how he was so beautiful pissed me off. I’ve generally had enough of love interests/potential love interests being beautiful. For me, it’s not swoony at all. It’s not romantic. And it makes me more spooked out than anything else, because what are the chances of me finding an incredibly hot and beautiful alien (who keeps looking at the MC’s lips and can apparently speak bloody English AND GASP LOOKS LIKE A HUMAN WHAT ARE THE CHANCES EH) or even just a beautiful man and falling in love with each other? Answer: zero to none.
Unless I’m a YA heroine, apparently.
I also had an issue with some characterization that happened among the captives. While I applaud the diversity of the cast and the variety of their backgrounds, it really bothered me that their attitudes and personalities took a 180 degree somewhere in the middle of the book with very little transition. It’s like they became from hero to psycho in a blink of an eye. I did like how their surroundings were changing them for the worse, but I wasn’t a fan of how it was done. Some twists are revealed – shocking twists at that – and they easily accept it without any question or resistant or disbelief (at least not explicity shown). I mean, if I were told that all of a sudden that books were suddenly banned and all libraries were burnt down, I wouldn’t simply go, “Oh, okay. Well, that’s life. Whoopdeedoo.” I would be FREAKING. THE. FRACK. OUT.
I think the best aspect about this book was its philosophical aspect and how it encouraged deep and thought-provoking discussion and discernment. The things that happen to our characters push and encourage us to think about our place in the world and what we do to our surroundings and to what we deem as “lesser species”. We have animals locked up and bred in zoos and in captivity, and we often use animals as test subjects for medicine and other fields of scientific study, thinking it’s for their good and for the betterment of everyone, but what happens when it’s us in their shoes? What if someone does the same to us and uses the same reasons for doing so? What would we think of our captors, then? What would we think of ourselves once we finally get a dose of our own medicine? It’s really interesting, and I feel like this book will really make us question how we treat animals in captivity and if we are handling them right.
All in all, I feel mixed about this book. There are so many good points, but the bad points weigh heavy upon me, too, and they did affect my reading experience somehow. But know this: I will read the sequel(s). The writing is enough to keep me going (it’s so bloody beautiful) and I am interesting in knowing what’s next. I would really appreciate it, though, if all mentions of romance are toned down a bit, because if I see a male love interest described as “beautiful” one more time, I might figuratively lose my shit.