Book title: The Cage
Author: Megan Shepherd
Series: The Cage, #1
Publisher: Balzer + Bray (Harper Collins Publishers)
Release date: May 2015
Format: Hardcover, 385 pages
The Maze Runner meets Scott Westerfeld in this gripping new series about teens held captive in a human zoo by an otherworldly race. From Megan Shepherd, the acclaimed author of The Madman’s Daughter trilogy.
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?
The Cage is a pretty tough sci-fi story to swallow. It brings up some heavy psychological questions and dilemmas. It’s dark, it’s grim, it’s disturbing at times. We are reminded that humans, and any human-like species, can really be disgusting and despicable when circumstances get ugly and people get desperate. The premise is actually fascinating, if downright creepy: Humans held in captivity by aliens. Basically, a human zoo. Where the aliens study and experiment on them.
The book is narrated by six characters, which is five characters too many. The main-main protagonist is Cora, but we get chapters through the eyes of Lucky, Nok, Rolf, Leon, and Mali. Perhaps The Cage‘s biggest downfall is its unlikable and cliche characters. Although racially diverse and from very different backgrounds, these teens showed some terrible true colors. I might go even so far as to say I hated a few of them.
I really disliked Cora for much of the book, although I admired the fight in her and the unwavering hope she could escape and go home to Earth. I really wasn’t a fan of Lucky; he come off as a douche sometimes and while I understood his desperation to survive via Cora’s cooperation, I still didn’t like him. I started off liking Nok very much… but then she totally fell off the rails and I couldn’t believe how much of a personality change she had. Rolf was actually very promising early on, but he, like Nok, became stupid and suspicious and close-minded as the book went on. Leon, although the group’s bully at the start, shaped up to be mildly interesting, but I didn’t like him much, either. Mali, however, really grew on me and became my favorite character, although she didn’t have much to do except drop some info-bombs on the others and begin to doubt what she’d been told. I liked Mali, she could really kick butt, but she couldn’t save this story.
Then there was Cassian, the Caretaker. A gorgeous alien. Who Cora was immediately attracted to and captivated by, despite knowing he was her captor. I knew it was coming, it says it in the book’s description, but I was all like, Girl, don’t you fall in love with your captor! But, alas, she did, and he with her, and it was both not too terrible but also terrible because Stockholm syndrome. Shudder.
I did think Cassian was a somewhat interesting character. He was a mystery, he wanted to understand humanity, he (sometimes) viewed Cora and the others (though mostly Cora) as real people. I mean, of course he viewed them as animals (intelligent ones, but still beings lesser than his kind), he was their Caretaker, and he didn’t do anything about the researchers performing their experiments on the teenagers and messing with their heads to see how they’d react. I don’t mind the trope of two people from completely different worlds falling in love, and I don’t mind human-alien pairing, as ridiculous as it is, so I was curious to see where Cora and Cassian’s bizarre relationship would go… I didn’t hate Cassian, but what he did to Cora especially is pretty tough to come back from.
The world building was actually pretty interesting and well-done. “The Cage” was very detailed and expansive and just downright creepy. It was really like a home for lab rats, complete with puzzles that would award tokens to exchange for prizes. Even the glimpses of alien life outside the Cage was pretty depressing, if a much-needed break from the hell going on among the human characters. Cora’s story-line was the only one I modestly cared about, and I still got sick of it at times. I also don’t think there needed to be six narratives going on. I just didn’t like anyone, and didn’t care about the “dark secrets” they were all hiding. The teens were unhappy, suspicious, and played one another. They were going crazy in their environment and it was messing with my head, too.
In the end, The Cage wasn’t a bad book at all. It’s just not a happy book, and the characters are far from compelling. The concept is great, and Megan Shepherd’s writing is great, and the book’s atmosphere hits perfectly. But it’s a tough story to swallow, and there are many lulls in the plot when characters you don’t give a crap about take turns giving their take on events. I also wasn’t surprised by the big reveal at the end even though I didn’t guess it. It definitely complicated things, that’s for sure, and hit all the characters and myself at an emotional level. No one likes being deceived! The Cage is a strange, dark, twisted story that I both liked and didn’t like. ♦
Have you read The Cage?
If you haven’t, would you be interested to?
What’s the last book you read about aliens?
What’s a book you’ve read that you might describe as “disturbing”?
Comment below letting me know!
And, as always, happy reading!