Book Review: The Cage by Megan Shepherd

the cageThe 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?

Ha, I should probably have read the blurb for this one, and not gone in on the title alone, because I was seriously picturing a bunch of humans locked up in a cage à la monkeys in a zoo, with aliens throwing peanuts at them through the bars.

The Cage started out quite slowly for me, with alternating perspectives showing our confused group of teens discovering their incredibly strange environment and trying to work out what they’re all doing there. The author did a good job in portraying the utter creepiness of the scenario – tasks that, when completed, provide rewards; artificial lighting to portray the different times of the day; buildings lighting up to indicate where they should go next – just like rats in a maze.

I also admired the way the author portrayed just how paranoid, irrational and downright strange people can get when forced together (or to work against each other) in strained conditions designed to stress them out and push them to their mental limits. It wasn’t a particularly fun experience watching the characters transform into these dislikable caricatures of themselves.

There were a few issues with the book though. Firstly, the group, divided into three boy-girl paired-off couples, have 21 days to essentially start procreating as one of the three conditions for living in this artificial habitat, else they will be removed from the experiment to who knows where – killed, forced into slavery, etc. I hated the way Lucky, who was paired with MC Cora, didn’t grasp the idea that consent given under coerced conditions, is not actual consent – and couldn’t understand Cora’s reluctance. It made me feel pretty uncomfortable.

Secondly, because the book takes place largely in the group’s enclosure, for lack of a better term, the world building is fairly lacking – how did the kids get transported to this random alien planet? How does the society work outside of the cage? Why are things the way they are? I was dissatisfied with the amount of information provided.

All in all, an interesting premise that, while not executed 100% to my liking, certainly has me wondering how things are going to end up in the second book – I’m hoping for some badass human rebellion!

ARC received from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 6/10

Hannah is a twenty-something born and bred Capetonian who adores reading and reviewing books, and encouraging critical discussion on all things pop culture. Currently a politics graduate student, she spent two years working in digital marketing before deciding she missed the student life. Loves QI, travel, dark chocolate, fantasy & YA books, pilates and sarcasm.