YA Weekend: The Caged Queen by Kristen Ciccarelli
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Series: Book 2 of Iskari
Publisher: HarperTeen (September 25, 2018)
Length: 400 pages
I was a bit worried about starting The Caged Queen, I confess, mostly because I don’t recall much from the first book. So, you can imagine my relief when I found out this follow-up was actually more of a companion novel than a direct sequel, shifting its focus on a new set of characters. I only vaguely remember Roa from The Last Namsara, but I was game to learn more about her story.
Apparently, it’s one filled with a fair bit of tragedy. Roa has lost her sister Essie, with whom she shared a very special bond. It was a spiritual connection so strong and powerful that, even after Essie’s death, her soul became trapped in this world and now lives on in the form of a mysterious white bird that is always at Roa’s side.
But Roa will never forget nor forgive the person she blames for what happened to her sister. It was Dax, the heir to Firgaard’s throne, who was supposed to die that day; if it hadn’t been for him, Essie would be still alive and Roa swore she would get her revenge. But Dax is now king, and Roa his queen because it was her part of the bargain for helping him overthrow his cruel father, who had been the cause of so much of her people’s suffering. Even though she loathes Dax, Roa knows she can enact more positive change as queen, so she bides her time while leaving her philandering husband to his own business.
But soon, Roa discovers a possible way to rescue her beloved sister during an event known as the Relinquishing, said to be when the spirits of the dead return. But at what cost? Roa thought she would be willing to pay any price, including killing the king, to get Essie back by her side, but that was before she realizes Dax might be more than he appears.
I have to hand it to Kristen Ciccarelli. The truth is, not a lot really happens in The Caged Queen, and yet through dynamic storytelling and the use of other creative writing devices, the author was able to generate and maintain a high level of interest throughout the entire novel. I liked it better than The Last Namsara, at least, though I think a lot of it also has to do with the characters. Roa and Dax were far more engaging and complex as the protagonists, for one thing, even if their relationship essentially boiled down to a standard hate-to-love romance. But by unraveling their history in cleverly, strategically placed flashbacks, readers are able to glean more depth and insight from their past interactions.
I also think this is where reading the first book would help fill in a lot of the spaces. A lot of the events from The Last Namara started coming back to me as I was reading this, and it helped me gain a deeper appreciation for Roa’s sacrifices as well as her troubled emotions where Dax is concerned. Without that context, I can see how Roa could be perceived as indecisive and lacking in agency, because Ciccarelli does seem to use the bulk of the book to develop the relationship between her and Dax rather than fill it with action—which is actually reserved for the end, when Roa must make her choice.
Looking back at my comments about the writing from my review of the first book, it also appears the author has done some honing and polishing of her craft. Despite the lowkey tone of The Caged Queen, the story was well paced and balanced. The prose was once again solid, and gorgeously detailed. I probably would have preferred more world-building overall, with more examples of Ciccarelli’s creativity which we got a lot more of in The Last Namsara, but it’s still clear from this book that her imagination is one of her greatest strengths.
All told, The Caged Queen was a good addition to the Iskari saga, and I liked how it could technically stand alone, though it was also rewarding to see how it expanded the world and fleshed out certain character stories. I am enjoying the format of these companion novels, which not only allows readers to see things from multiple perspectives, but also lets the author exercise different facets of her talent. The Last Namsara was rich in world-building, magic and lore and mythical creatures like dragons, while this one dialed back on those elements in favor of character and relationship development. I think this offers some variety and keeps things interesting and fresh, and with that said, I look forward to what the next installment will bring.
More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of The Last Namsara (Book 1)