The Caged Queen by Kristen Ciccarelli – REVIEW
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 the throne of Firgaard, was responsible for the accident. Roa swore she would never forgive him – yet when he came begging for her help to dethrone his cruel father, 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. . .
“The king and queen watched each other for a stretched-out moment as the sun sank lower in the sky. Like two opponents across a gods and monsters board, both awaiting the other’s move.”
The Last Namsara was one of my favourite books of 2017 so I jumped at the chance to take part in the blog tour for its companion novel The Caged Queen. Gollancz kindly sent me a finished copy in exchange for an honest review. Whilst Asha was the focus of the first book, this story centres around Roa, a scrublander who recently made a political marriage with Dax, the new King of Firgaard. Because Asha was such a wonderfully complex character, at first I found it difficult to connect with Roa but, once I did, I was completely engrossed in her journey.
“Before this night was over, her heart was going to be broken no matter what choice she made.”
Love and grief permeate the narrative as the soul of Roa’s sister is trapped in a white hawk. The sibling bond was beautifully portrayed with Roa and Essie’s love forming the backbone of the story and driving the plot. Dax was an interesting character as I disliked his initial behaviour towards Roa but grew to understand his motivations and hidden talents. Kristen Ciccarelli is incredible at writing complex characters and Roa and Dax are no exception. Their difficult marriage is nuanced and relatable, made more difficult by both characters masking their feelings.
“Blood is blood. You can’t run from yours as much as I can’t run from mine.”
The political machinations at court and the distrust of a foreign queen lead to an ongoing strategic game between the council and Dax/Roa that forms the second plot thread. The insidious dehumanisation of the scrublanders reinforces the Firgaardian sense of superiority and I empathised with Roa’s growing anger and frustration, which she ultimately takes out on the seemingly-disinterested Dax. The plot had me so invested that I couldn’t put the book down until I knew how it ended.
“Real love is the strongest kind of steel. It’s a blade that can be melted down, its form changed with every bang of the hammer, but to break it is a task no one is capable of. Not even Death.”
Like TLN, the narrative is interspersed with fairytale-esque stories and histories, adding a layer of depth and complexity to the main events. The only drawback to this book was the lack of dragons, but we do meet Asha and Kozu again which was very rewarding. The ending was beautifully executed and I can’t wait to read the final book in this fantastic trilogy due out next year. If you enjoy fantasy with incredible world-building, memorable characters, and a fast-paced plot, then I’d highly recommended this engaging and powerfully written book.