The Caged Queen by Kristen Ciccarelli

The Caged Queen by Kristen Ciccarelli
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After being swept up in the stunningly captivating story, The Last Namsara, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this sequel. The Caged Queen is instead narrated by Roa, while Asha is on the run, and we dive into a fractured kingdom trying desperately to find its feet after a war of betrayal and dethroning.

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Emotions are taut, the stakes are high, and everything about the book is designed to keep you rooted to the page. I maintain that this is YA fantasy at its most beautiful and the author has quickly cemented her name on my “fantasy favorites” list!

THE BOOK IN 3 SENTENCES

After the events in The Last Namsara, Dax has taken his tyrant father’s crown and promised the scrublander, Roa, that she’ll be his queen. However, friction runs deep since their people have always been at war and, not only that, Dax is responsible for a childhood tragedy that befell Roa’s family, and she’s never recovered. Kindhearted or not, when it comes down to a choice between her family or Dax, Roa realizes killing him might be her people’s best hope for survival…

DID IT FALL INTO SEQUEL BLUES?

The Caged Queen by Kristen Ciccarelli

It goes without saying that it’s easy to be wary of sequels, especially if you’re passionately in love with the first book, which would be me, always, with The Last Namsara! The dreaded “sequel blues” can appear and give us stories with lackluster pacing or shallow character arcs.

I’m pleased to say The Caged Queen fell into none of these traps! It’s a study in how to write a compelling and addictive sequel, with new characters storming onto the page to win your hearts and old characters making reappearances and bringing swarms of danger that make you wonder who will get out alive.

Instead of Asha narrating like in the first book, this time, we have the scrublander princess, Roa, telling the story. I did have a moment’s of hesitation whether I would love Roa enough, considering it was Asha who won me over to the series in the first book. But Roa took this story and made it her own. I think it’s a special trilogy that can feature three different narrators and one world and tie it all so seamlessly together.

TIME TO PLOT AGAINST A KING (AGAIN)

In the first book we followed Asha and Torwin and their dragons as they took out the tyrant king and put Asha’s brother, Dax, on the throne. However, Asha is now on the run as a kingslayer and Dax has been dumped into a court that doesn’t love him.

They see him as weak, childish, and insipid. He laughs too much, he’s known for sleeping around, he naps through meetings, and he doesn’t move very fast on keeping promises or making changes. However, he has an alliance with the Scrublanders now, and his wife is Roa. As a new queen, she wants the best for her people and sees Dax and a monumental waste of air.

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Does she regret marrying him? Oh hoo, yes, she does. She thinks Dax will end up being a flaky king and won’t keep his word to bring freedom to her people, to end slavery, and to strengthen the kingdom. The court is also still a nest of vipers, with people unhappy with the tyrant king’s murder and objecting to change. Roa is treated with contempt in her own “home” and Dax doesn’t seem to do anything about it. It would be treasonous to plot against Dax, her husband and king, and the people’s liberator…but yet…

SISTER BONDS AND GHOSTS

One thing that immediately caught my heart was the intense and complicated sister storyline. Roa had a twin sister, and they were as tight as licorice twists growing up. They were each other’s everything and knotted with a special sort of sister magic.

Their family used to foster Dax when he was little too, so the three grew up together, playing complex board games (I imagined it rather like chess) and learning plot and strategy. Dax was a dreamy little boy with no skill for reading, but a heart full of love for the sisters and a winning smile.

He’d follow them around like a third shadow. Until: tragedy. Essie died, and Roa forever blamed Dax. Now Essie’s soul is trapped inside a hunting bird, and there is a slim chance that a magical ritual will bring her back. However, a life must be exchanged for a life and since it was Dax’s fault…he would need to be the one to die.

This made Dax and Roa’s relationship complicated throughout the whole book. He comes across as such a wholesome and lovely boy that Roa feels ruined with guilt at the thought of conspiring against him and plotting his death. She married him, didn’t she? Did she once even love him? But there’s too much dark baggage between them, and there’s nothing Roa wouldn’t do to try and get her twin sister back. And she’s on a thin time limit because once a soul lingers too long in this world instead of passing to the next…it will turn corrupt. Roa can’t let that happen, and she can’t let go.

SLOW BURN + HATE TO LOVE = THIS ROMANCE

Again, like the first book, we’re presented with this fantastic and complex romance that is not what it seemed. I was entranced with Dax’s trickery and Roa’s scheming and their need for each other…but their desperation never to show it. Roa holds so much bitter resentment for Dax and she also feels like he’s let her down.

Since we’re in her perspective exclusively, we don’t know what Dax is up to until the end. But it’s thrilling! I loved all the plot twist reveals. I especially loved their on-and-off feelings for each other. Mostly they hid their feelings for each other, but the occasional cuddle in the cold desert (they pretend that never happened) or the “fake” kiss in a forbidden library (to stop anyone knowing their schemes) was the best thing to read. You can’t help but root for them. Moreover, their character arcs were both so emotional and complex, intriguing and well-written, that they felt like real people.

IT’S A STORY OF GRIEF AND LOSS AND POWER

Every single aspect of the story caught my intention. But one thing, in particular, that was so well crafted was how it talked about grief and denial. Roa carries her grief so heavily it’s all she can do to keep going sometimes. The themes of letting go, remembering your loves, of learning to trust again – and learning to live even though your heart is broken with loss – were so powerful. This story is full of epic women and heartfelt themes. And it’s tied together with exciting action scenes, schemes, and whispers of betrayal. The conclusion to this trilogy, coming 2019, is going to be stunning.

About the Author

CG Drews is a YA book blogger with the goal to read every book in existence. She’s aiming for immortality for this. When not reading, she writes novels and blogs at paperfury.com.

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