Cora and her friends have escaped the Kindred station and landed at Armstrong—a supposed safe haven on a small moon—where they plan to regroup and figure out how to win the Gauntlet, the challenging competition to prove humanity’s intelligence and set them free. But Armstrong is no paradise; ruled by a power-hungry sheriff, it’s a violent world where the teens are enslaved and put to work in mines. As Nok’s due date grows closer, and Mali and Leon journey across space to rescue Cassian, the former inhabitants of the cage are up against impossible odds.
With the whole universe at stake, Cora will do whatever it takes, including pushing her body and mind to the breaking point, to escape Armstrong and run the Gauntlet. But it isn’t just a deranged sheriff she has to overcome: the other intelligent species—the Axion, Kindred, Gatherers, and Mosca—all have their own reasons to stop her. Not knowing who to trust, Cora must rely on her own instincts to win the competition, which could change the world—though it might destroy her in the process.
The conclusion to the Cage series has Cora as the savior of the human race throughout the galaxy in the form of being their champion in the Gauntlet. However, interstellar politics means she has to first fight her way across to even reach the planet where the gauntlet will be held. The squad has to face many challenges, including separation from one another, betrayal and mistrust, and what they learnt through the Cage, the Menageries, the Dollhouse and the Hunt comes to save them now in this test. As the plot evolves, we learn that running the Gauntlet is not just about elevating humans to a superior race, but also about protecting the existing ones.
As a conclusion to the series, The Gauntlet works but I was not overly impressed with it. I remember (even though it has been almost a year) that The Cage and the Hunt were involved books – you could connect to the characters. Here, we get fewer perspectives (Lucky died *sob*) and even with more pages devoted to Cora, I felt essentially out of touch with her. Moreover, once the secret of the Gauntlet was revealed, the plot kinda lost the individual meaning to the characters. It became a Plot Ex Machina at the same time – tying up the threads raised by the new threat in this book too soon. There is much more unbelievable science (or is it spirituality?) involved in this book, and that kind of renders the threats impotent. A series of conveniences and boom, the book ends on a hopeful note. Overall, if you had loved the series, chances are you might still like this book and the ending, but you might not be awed by it.
Received an advance reader copy in exchange for a fair review from Balzer & Bray, via Edelweiss.