So Red Queen was pretty OK – there were a few flaws and the writing needed a bit of work, but overall it seemed like a pretty good concept that would, with any luck, get better with its inevitable sequels. Then Glass Sword came out and shattered that hope. It absolutely decimated the expectations and optimism readers had for the series. For many readers this was also true for the faith they had in Victoria Aveyard’s ability to craft a good story. But perhaps Aveyard had learned from her mistakes, taken the constructive criticism offered by many in the bookish community and really put heart and soul into King’s Cage. Spoiler alert, she didn’t. Or if she did, she failed.
So King’s Cage picks up from exactly where Glass Sword left off which, in my opinion, is fine. I’m ok with sequels picking up from where the previous instalment left off. We spend a ridiculous amount of time and focus with Mare and her imprisonment. It gets old very, very quickly, especially if, like me, you can’t stand the ‘little lightning girl’. It’s no secret; I actively admit that I hate Mare Barrow as a character. There is nothing likeable about her: she’s annoying, self-centred, hypocritical and completely uninspiring. Not to mention a total idiot.
“I lost every other person I ever loved.” “And whose fault is that?”
But luckily we get to have a little break from Mare’s self-indulgent narrative every now and again because King’s Cage has multiple points of view throughout its narrative. Personally, I’m generally a fan of multiple points of view in YA fiction – I think it adds more depth to certain stories, but by no means do I think it’s a necessary narrative devise. But King’s Cage definitely needed it. Whilst there was more world-building in this instalment (more on that later) it seemed required purely because of the sheer want from readers to get away from Mare for a chapter or two.
I wonder how much of this multiple POV narrative was part of the original plan for the Red Queen sequels, and how much of it was Aveyard trying to figure out how to tell her story with a little less of Mare as the focus after the character received a near universal panning from readers?
Unfortunately, the multiple POV narratives aren’t enough to offer readers much relief. This is because one of the two alternative narrators is Cameron or, as I call her, the Beta Test version of Mare. This is because she is almost as unlikeable as Mare herself; she’s selfish, grating and also a bit of an idiot. I have no investment in Cameron as a character and, although she was a break from Mare, I felt like it was more of the same.
“Then I remember – monsters are most dangerous when they’re afraid.”
Evangeline is the other narrator, and she is brilliant. I loved every second I spent in her chapters. I have always loved Evangeline as a character; I thought she has always been amazingly well written well-rounded. Aveyard gives us much more insight into a character that was already pretty well handled and gives her so much more depth. I practically have nothing bad to say about Evangeline’s POV chapters except that there were too few of them; it was too little, too late. Had Aveyard treated her other characters the same as Evangeline, the Red Queen series could have been phenomenal.
I can’t help but feel that Maven, Cal or even Farley would have made better choices for POV narrators than Cameron and a nice addition to Evangeline. But I honestly don’t think Aveyard is skilled enough at her craft yet to give these characters the depth and attention they deserve without coming across as stale or under-developed.
“Knowing what you know now…would you go back?”
Moving on to one of the other big focuses in this series, the romantic relationships in King’s Cage are mostly uninspired and unbelievable – regardless of which one you ship. The relationship between Mare and Maven is the hardest one to read through. It is extremely repetitive and, unless Mare is suffering from Stockholm syndrome, not believable even to the most naïve reader. She flips from over empathetic to rage machine too many times to lend her feelings any credibility and it’s completely over the top at times. Compare that to Mare and Cal and it’s a complete contrast. This is the relationship we are all apparently supposed to root for, yet there is no fire between the lightning girl and the flame prince (no pun intended). Cal and Mare’s emotional entanglement could have been explored much more to make certain parts more impactful to the reader. Instead of compassion for them, we’re left with indifference. The most interesting and real romantic relationship happens with Evangeline; her issues, struggles and passions seem completely genuine. Although it has to be said that Aveyard, even when things are going good, needs a lesson in reducing repetition.
“Love makes you weak.”
Speaking of repetition, a lot of the book felt overly repetitive, from character traits, to the story and even to the dialogue itself! The first half is practically the same thing repeated every other chapter – I was so close to not finishing the book. Clocking in at over 500 pages, half of King’s Cage could easily have been cut out and the story still would have made sense – more pages does equal a better book! On top of the repetition, the pace was incredibly slow for the first three quarters of the plot and it was an absolute chore to read. I felt genuine dismay at the thought of a long, laborious read ahead of me after reading only the first three chapters of King’s Cage.
The world building in King’s Cage, whilst inevitable as we learn about countries other than Norta, seemed to only be there to fill pages at times. What should have been a rich history of Reds and Silvers and their various wars and conflicts seemed like a last-minute thought desperately placed between pages as an attempt at complexity.
“I’ve seen Silver battles before. They are chaos. This is worse.”
I think the whole series thinks it’s better than what it is, and that Aveyard has delusions of grandeur about the epic-ness of her plot – it’s not complex, it’s highly predictable and the characters fall flat. Instead of struggling with “inner turmoil” Mare comes across as indecisive, whiny and insincere, instead of torn between two sides of an argument, Cal seems indifferent and aloof. Instead of a majorly disturbed threat, Maven comes across as weak-willed and ambivalent. A lot of plot points seem to happen out of sheer convenience rather than genuine development. As a side note, I also don’t think Aveyard knows what an epilogue is, or how to properly write a strapline –“All will burn” – really? Who? What? Because nothing does in this book!
Evangeline was one of the few saving graces of this book. Her character, along with descriptive writing of items like clothing, the newbloods’ powers, and the violence were all written well, but unfortunately that is not enough to save King’s Cage.
“She glitters, a lethal star, with a cape and slashed gown of intricate silver scales.”
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – it feels like Aveyard has no genuine love for YA, but instead sees it as a good opportunity to make money and is milking it for all she can. I will probably buy whatever the next book is, despite all of this, because I want to finish the series (against my better judgement). There is also a part of me that sincerely hopes that Aveyard can do better than this and that she will make amends for the second half of Red Queen, all of Glass Sword and practically all of King’s Cage. At the very least I’ll probably end up buying the next book for nothing other than the gorgeous cover art! That is something I have never found a fault in!
“We’re going to let them kill each other.”
[PLEASE NOTE]: I was not paid or sponsored to write this review – all the opinions are honest and my own.