The Cage by Megan Shepherd
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
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 presents an intriguing speculation – what if, there was a higher form of life which treated us like the way we treat wildlife here on earth? There have been plenty of alien abduction stories, but this one is in a different vein, because it takes the cruel fact that we humans like to lord over what we consider ‘lesser beings’ because they lack sentience; the aliens in the world of Cage consider humans lesser evolved because they (humans) aren’t as evolved as them to have telekinetic and telepathic abilities. It surely raises an interesting question as to how it would be to live like the animals we consider primitive, and I kid you not, this provoked me to ruminating on it through my day.
The story starts with these six strangers (gathered from all over the world for diversity’s sake) waking up in a strange ‘habitat’ created for them by aliens called Kindred, who want to take care of them like we stick animals in a zoo. They are expected to eat and sleep well, be content in captivity and more importantly, reproduce. The teens have been told that Earth is gone and they are being kept to propagate and preserve the species – if you can see the lie for what it is, the teens saw it too. Unfortunately, they are out of ideas, and out of ways to challenge these aliens who can read their very thoughts. Cora, who was in a juvenile prison before this, doesn’t take well to this prison and starts looking for a way out. Their Caretaker, Cassian, seems to sympathize with her but he can’t let her out. Even the way he feels about her doesn’t mean he is going to free her, and that plays a big role in that mind-blowing climax.
The Cage is a big mind manipulation, at its root level. The teens are being pushed to their psychological limits, and Cora soon realizes that it is the Kindred’s doing. What she can’t understand is why, and the questioning is driving her crazy. The others, too, have their own reasons for unleashing their worst sides. Nok, the model, is manipulating the others for her survival. Rolf, the bullied, is becoming the bully – he is quick to blame Cora for the troubles they face. Leon is haunted by the girl that had died before – one of the six, who is now replaced by the quiet Mali, the latter raised in captivity by the Kindred.
As they are being set against each other, you see how deeply they were being manipulated, and that was the most scary part because they do this to each other willingly. Honestly, the characters well so well-written, that I couldn’t even judge them for their faults. Well, besides Cora – she was being all starry-eyed over Cassian (typical YA girl), even when he was her captor (like, ugh, it is slavery, girl!) and that repetitive praising of his unearthly beauty *eyeroll* (which I couldn’t get, because fully BLACK eyes) but she is the driving force of the plot so, you know, she gets a break for it. I didn’t see the point of Lucky, much, even with the reveal at the end, because however you look at it, he didn’t have much pressure on him throughout the book. But with the next one, I am interested in seeing the direction the plot takes, as well as what the future of humans is! In short I would say, this book was one hell of an opener.
Received a free galley from Balzer&Bray, via Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review.
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