Series: The Cage Trilogy, Book 1
Author: Megan Shepherd (site)
Publisher: Balzer & Bray
Release Date: May 26, 2015
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary Science Fiction
Told: Third Person Multiple (6 humans), Past Tense
Content Rating: Older Teen (violence, disturbing situations and images, some sensuality, teen pregnancy, some language)
Format Read: ARC (trade)
Find On: Goodreads
Purchase On: Amazon | B&N | Book Depository
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?
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In a Sentence: An interesting premise but unsettling result that disturbed me until the explosive end.
Like the humans in their cage, I slowly went mad in the pages of this book. The story was not the good chill of a read that I expected, instead a slow build of dread and delusion that rather disturbed me.
Writing: The story is told Third Person from the point of view of the six teens in the cage. Broken into named chapters it was somewhat easy to tell them apart, but I believe the book would've been much better if told First Person solely from Cora's point of view since the plot mainly followed her and the chapters were mostly from her point of view. The information we received from the other five teens was spartan and almost completely unnecessary except to their character, and their characters held little importance to the overall plot. They were more like secondary characters to Cora, and learning important information from them before Cora greatly lessened the impact of some major reveals. Their point of views will probably become a bigger deal to the plot in later books, but for this one it proved a disappointment.
Setting: The dark but dazzling alien zoo premise I'd expected was not quite what I got. Yes humans were kept in environment cages where they were watched for amusement and studied for research, but for the most part it all felt more alien experimentation than zoo. The book spends most of its time in one particular experiment "menagerie," and there like Cora I found myself trapped with a headache in a disturbing cage I couldn't escape, slowly going mad.
Story: The first three-fours of the book were a struggle of disorientation and delusion, the only highlights the brief times Cora was outside of the cage. Inside of it I just couldn't find much to interest me as the teens slowly succumbed to madness, which left only morbid curiosity to keep me going. The last fourth engaged me more though as Cora formed an escape (even though I thought her extremely delusional) and as she became more engaged with their alien Caretaker, and to my surprise by the end I found myself intrigued enough to want to read the next book. However, my interest is in seeing more of the aliens and their worlds, and not the characters. None of the teens ever truly engaged me, the aliens far more fascinating in their inhumanity.
Characters: Cora's unyielding strength was inspiring, but I felt she was just a little too delusional for her own good. The rest of the teens were too highly unbalanced for me to relate to, and were never consistent enough for me to understand. If I had to choose a favorite teen it would be Mali, strong and sharp and scarred from living among the aliens most of her life.
Romantic Relationships: The romances in this book were complicated and a little unsettling as the teens were initially paired for breeding and later as madness overcame them. Cora ended up with a bit of a love triangle between her paired human boy and the alien Caretaker. While the boy was really sweet I was never fully on board with him because of reasons, and I'm still not quite sure how to feel about her alien interest - interspecies romances can be fun, but here it smacked too much of Stockholm syndrome. And then of course he and his feelings were not all they seemed...
Conclusion: If you like disturbing stories about alien-human experiments that may break your sanity a little while you read them, then maybe give this one a try. Currently on the fence about reading any more in the series - I'd expected a series going in, but with a trilogy instead of a duology now ahead of me I'm not sure if I'm interested enough to read two more books.