The Caged Queen by Kristen Ciccarelli
Publication date: 27 September 2018
Genre: Young adult fantasy
Page count: 400 pages
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This review is spoiler free for The Caged Queen, but will contain spoilers for The Last Namsara. You can read my review of the first book here.
I was so thrilled to get my hands on a copy of The Caged Queen. I liked Ciccarelli’s debut, The Last Namsara, but had some trouble with the romance. The sequel picks up the story where The Last Namsara left off, but follows a new character and a new love interest, so I was definitely intrigued. The book features some of my favourite tropes: a marriage of convenience, a hate-to-love relationship, and a whole lot of political scheming and backstabbing. I expected to adore The Caged Queen, and while there were aspects that I really liked, I ended up feeling disappointed for a couple of reasons.
Once there were two sisters born with a bond so strong that it forged them together forever. When they were angry, mirrors shattered, and when they were happy, flowers bloomed. It was a magic they cherished – until the day a terrible accident took Essie’s life and trapped her soul in this world.
Dax – the heir to Firgaard’s throne – was responsible for the accident. Roa swore to hate him forever. But eight years later he returned, begging for her help. He was determined to dethrone his cruel father, under whose oppressive reign Roa’s people had suffered. Roa made him a deal: she’d give him the army he needed if he made her queen.
Together with Dax and his sister, Asha, Roa and her people waged war and deposed a tyrant. But now Asha is on the run, hiding from the price on her head. And Roa is an outlander queen, far from home and married to her enemy. Worst of all: Dax’s promises go unfulfilled. Roa’s people continue to suffer.
Then a chance to right every wrong arises – an opportunity for Roa to rid herself of this enemy king and rescue her beloved sister. During the Relinquishing, when the spirits of the dead are said to return, Roa can reclaim her sister for good.
All she has to do is kill the king.
To start with the good things, I absolutely love the world building in Ciccarelli’s books. She manages to bring her world and cultures to life and despite the dragons, the magic, and the fairy tales that happen to be true, everything on the page feels so real. I could read pages and pages of history about this world and never grow bored. I really love the politics in this book as well, particularly how well it blends in with cultural differences and prejudices. The political scheming was one of my favourite parts of The Last Namsara and it only gets more intense in The Caged Queen. Finally, can I just tell you how nice it is to see a wonderful relationship between sisters? Sure it’s complicated, but I loved the flashbacks to their time growing up together and dealing with Dax’s intrusion and the consequences that his presence brings.
My problems with the book center around Roa, our main character. She plays a small role in The Last Namsara and I was really looking forward to seeing her as a main character. She seemed so brave and badass in the first book — she leads an army to help Asha and Dax overthrow their father and she marries Dax in order to secure a future for her people. However, she really fell flat as a character for me for two reasons. The first is that she, quite frankly, just didn’t seem very bright. She cannot see beneath the surface of any situation she is in or any person she meets — in this way she is an astonishingly shallow character. Sometimes this works out really well in terms of plot, but it just made her seem silly most of the time. Without giving any spoilers, she manages to walk into the exact same life threatening situation twice and doesn’t seem to learn from it. All of this would be more acceptable to me if we weren’t constantly told how bold and brave she is and what a great strategist she is — this didn’t come across in the narrative at all. I found myself constantly wanting to shake as she miraculously stumbles her way through the plot.
The second issue I have is that about 85% of the conflict in this book could have been resolved if Roa sat down with Dax and other characters and just had a conversation with them. This is a particular issue that really gets to me — I find it infuriating and often DNF books that use this plot device. Roa has numerous opportunities to clear the air with other characters and never does. Some of it I can understand, particularly later on in the book, but for the most part it’s just her pride getting in the way of common sense.
I was ultimately disappointed by The Caged Queen, despite it having some great writing and world building. Roa is not nearly as strong a character as Asha, and her unwillingness to discuss the problems at hand was really problematic for me. I really wanted to love The Caged Queen and Roa, but she just wasn’t a strong enough character to carry the novel. I know this won’t bother other readers as much, so I encourage you to pick this book up and form your own opinion.
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Have you read The Caged Queen? What did you think? What about The Last Namsara? Let me know!