To briefly recap the Red Queen series thus far: the first book was slow, but ultimately satisfying and the second book was less satisfying, but with an amazing climax. For part 3, Aveyard creates an intriguing roller coaster of a novel that ultimately feels like two separate experiences: one a haunting take on Beauty and the Beast, the other a disjointed depiction of a war nobody really understands. So many spoilers ahead.
Unlike the painfully slow Glass Sword, King’s Cage has an amazingly tense opening half. I was glad to see so much attention given to Maven, because he is, by far, the most interesting character in the series. As in Red Queen, Aveyard paints the tortured monster of a king in such a light that the reader, like Mare, hangs on his every word both in fear and awe of what his next move will be. His manipulation is complete as he maintains a death grip on all sense of safety and empathy. Aveyard went to great lengths to humanize Maven’s monstrosity, to great effect. As in the first book, we are lured in by his apparent vulnerability, susceptible the his temptation, while in the back of our minds we know that we can’t trust a single word he says. As readers, our ability to empathize with Mare’s dilemma over whether she still feels something for him or needs to destroy him is uncanny and incredibly well-executed.
With that said, there are raisins a-plenty, especially throughout the latter half.
Let’s start with the obvious first target. For the first time in the series, Aveyard switches between multiple viewpoint characters (and if you’ve been reading my reviews, you know how much I sarcastically love that…). Now, this actually makes sense in the context of the story, since Mare spends the entire first half away from the Scarlet Guard, and it’s necessary to fill in some gaps as to what they are doing while she’s imprisoned at Whitefire. Unfortunately, this fails on two fronts: perspective and scope. I thought using Cameron as a viewpoint character was a strange decision, since, as she points out, she has no idea what’s going on. Cameron adds so little value as a viewpoint character, unless her purpose was simply to show how different she was from Mare and how difficult it is to be a newblood. The former could’ve easily been illustrated by Farley, who is both better informed and has undergone significant trauma and character growth throughout the story. The latter could’ve been illustrated by Kilorn, who spends his time bridging the rifts between the Guard, the newborns and the Silvers, offering a unique perspective as someone caught in the middle of a turbulent group of would-be adversaries. Both characters are much more well-informed about the other characters and the events of the previous two books, and would make for more appropriate and interesting storytellers.
The other major problem with this perspective shift is that it does nothing to bridge the logical gap between the strength and position of the Scarlet Guard between the end of book 2 when Mare surrenders to Maven and the middle of book 3 when Mare is freed. How do they gather and train the forces they need to invade Archeon? We are shown some intel/strategy meetings and given the impression that training has been happening, but nothing that makes the connection we need in order to understand and believe in what’s going on. Where did all these people come from, and how did they get so good at military operations. Again, if Aveyard insists on showing us glimpses of the Guard’s operations, it would only take a few hints, possible even mysterious hints, from better-informed characters to fill this gaping hole.
I don’t know if it’s just me, but I also had a hard time keeping track of all the characters. There are way too many characters and abilities, and every time Mare tried to make me remember someone, I couldn’t connect which name went with which power. It’s like trying to remember the entire cast of Justice League: Unlimited, except without any brightly-colored spandex costumes to help you remember.
Of the three endings in the series so far, this one is probably the weakest, in spite of what it was building up to. Don’t get me wrong, the battles are exciting and written with brilliant cinematic detail. Who wouldn’t want to see a war between super-powered armies? But in spite of Aveyard’s attention to detail on a descriptive level, there is so much missing that is so quickly glossed over. How did Samos and the other allies beat back Maven’s forces? Oh, you’d rather have a talking scene instead… okay… Now, it’s clear that she was building up to another book (hopefully a conclusion, I really don’t need to see this war drag on forever, and neither do any of the characters), but there’s an alarming number of loose threads here. For example: Jon, brain lightning, Julian’s research, Lakelander religion, Maven’s cure, Elane, Farley’s baby, the red families, Maven’s newbloods, the Piedmont princes and his children, tension in House Iral, Iris, and of course, the obvious resolution to the war and the Nortan throne. And that’s just what I could come up with on the spot. Hopefully the next book will resolve some of these.
Ultimately, one thing I can safely say about Aveyard’s writing is that it is not predictable. Come what may, she always keeps readers guessing, waiting with bated breath for what will come next.