This third instalment in the Red Queen series is not entirely about what happens in this book, but what happened that led Mare and all her friends/captives to this horrible conclusion, or what could be a conclusion. Mare Barrow, ancestor of criminal Clyde Barrow potentially, but known as a newblood, has killed Queen Elara, which is basically one half of the Silver government, Maven being the other half. But that led to Mare's brother Shade being slaughtered and hundreds of kids going up to the Choke, a place where Reds are brought like draino that doesn't clear the tubes to a war against the Lakelanders in response to Mare's actions. But on her way over to try and stop it, she's ambushed and brought before Maven himself. She thinks she's going to be tributed in front of thousands of Silvers like an terrorist leader in front of all of North America, but Maven spares her, only to have her put under manacles to push her down, negate her powers, and a palace of Silent Stone to give her a headache that will never leave. And Maven's cause is to use her as a weapon, but is there something extra?
Red Queen and Glass Sword were both so spectacular, that I waited like a kid awaiting his second Pokemon game for the book, took the bus all the way to the mall the day it came out and waited forty minutes in the freezing rain with this book in my backpack. It was worth it. I don't say this about many book series at all but books like these deserve to be purchased in hardcover and put on display on your bookshelf in the best place possible. And there have been series in the past that have a third instalment that prevented me from wholeheartedly saying it. Not this time!
One thing I first noticed was this is the first series to change viewpoints, and I was scared because what I find usually happens is there are skips and psyches that can make me annoyed and wait longer, especially if it just started. I was also worried Victoria Aveyard found herself at a position where she couldn't write a story with only Mare anymore, and that these viewpoints would take Mare out of the queen's throne we've built up for her in the last two books. What I got out of it was an expansion that never got out of hand, and recognized Mare was still in the driver's seat despite being manacled, and the other points of view cater and don't linger enough to make me think that way.
And I've read so many books about easy escapes from custody I've lost count. (If you want a book like this with a situation that really feels the key has been locked and incinerated, try the Escape from Furnace series.) But Aveyard is smart enough to know in realistic situations, escape doesn't always present itself that easy. There have been books like The Glass Arrow that overdo this and bring unpleasantness but Aveyard is able to live up to the title premise, and yet still making us feel this is still, in some ways, an adventure, and in all the right ways, a Red Queen book. For example, Mare is forced to relive the demise of her brother, being shown dozens of different ways she could've stepped or ducked differently and he would've been fine. That is true torture and a feeling that splits your heart into more than just two pieces just imagining it done on yourself. The action sequences also work in the favour of this premise because at this point, we really care about Mare and the progress of this story, and things feel so tight that when an opportunity presents, nothing could remove me from my fingers as they were turning the pages.
There's also the case with Maven. He's one of the creepiest characters in YA if you ask me. He stalked Mare in Glass Sword and now seems to be cracking and strengthening at the same time. It's also creepy when we think about him as Mare thinks about him. We know Maven's a monster with unforgivable stunts he's orchestrated but when Aveyard mentions a loophole I didn't see coming, and another loophole that has to do with the cliffhanger we thought we were going to get before the last five pages of Glass Sword, I couldn't help but want to see if I could rewire Maven after being unplugged by his mother, while also being skeptical about my desire like Mare. Aveyard has crafted a protagonist in Mare Barrow that displays diligence and knowing regret.
As for twists and turns? There was plenty in Red Queen and Glass Sword while still being able to have more action than about 95% of books of any literature, but there's one in King's Cage that is so unpredictable you might have to read over the whole chapter when it comes up to see if you read it exactly right. And I was on my toes in this book already!
The book also reminded me of all those times in books and in real life where we're separated and need comfort, like the reunion scene at the start of Kimberly Derting's wonderful book The Taking or the end of the film Where the Wild Things Are. It's always a treat when it's done well, regardless of the actual vehicle aka book, if it's done right like it is here. And can I say one thing? Well, one more thing? Mare's family gets some treatments, and it genuinely made me happy finding about how they're healing, especially Mare's dad, who used to be in a wheelchair. A wheelchair's one of my worst fears.
Oh, and this has nothing to do with the book, but Aveyard mentions so many authors I've heard of in her acknowledgments, as well as all these people in politics that I admire as well, I can't help but want to know her. She has a writing style that I can't help but make me feel we'd be good friends.
I guess one thing that I found a little stuffy was an introduction of so many characters and so many faces that Mare says is familiar but not to me. Sometimes there's so many characters, I can't help but feel Aveyard's using every name known to man somewhere in here. (Including the names Caz and Brecker, in that order, which I think she might've gotten from Kaz Brekker from Six of Crows. That was funny.) I also feel more could've been said when a character realizes a relative is from the Scarlet Guard. It's said, and said masterfully. It brings the vibe you'd expect if you were fed propaganda every day to find out either it was false or your family's gone mad, with the latter easier to believe. There's also one "Hold On" moment when Farley performs a distraction. But King's Cage dared to be a disaster in the Red Queen series bringing off a new sort of plot-line we haven't seen yet and ends up being a novel worth the wait that maintains its position on a series that deserves its popularity and delivers with every page.
I'll say it one more time: All Hail The Red Queen! King's Cage's crown is made up of spine and bone this time, and it has the guts and glory to justify that!