Series: The Cage # 1
Published by Balzer + Bray on May 26, 2015
Genres: Science Fiction
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?
After finishing “The Cage“, I’m questioning whether this story is actually “otherwordly,” as described in the synopsis, because I unfortunately never really had the sense that we were dealing with aliens on some distant planet. No, it wasn’t because the aliens intentionally created Earth-like environments in order to put their human captives at ease, as was explained numerous times in the story. (Yeah, good luck with that.) There was just no sense of “otherness”; it felt like this book could have been set in a science lab somewhere on Earth. Actually, most likely this lab would be set in the United States, since, unsurprisingly, every alien we encounter is fluent in English.
My biggest problem with this book, however, is the aliens themselves. This should never be a problem for me, because ever since I saw Close Encounters of the Third Kind when I was very young, I’ve been enthralled with stories and movies involving aliens. But they need to be ALIENS! Otherwise, what is the point of building a story around beings who are essentially human in appearance and behavior and who can communicate with the English-speaking world? I’ll go ahead and answer my own question. I’ve read two other YA books recently featuring alien/human romances (Alienated and Undertow), and all of these books had the same problem. The authors are forced to make the aliens so human-like in appearance and temperament in order to avoid the major ick factor that would occur if the teenage girl MC was making out with some beastly insectoid creature. But as soon as the alien qualities are wiped out, we’re left with any old humdrum relationship.
I had a few smaller issues with The Cage. The human captives are forced to solve silly puzzles and the tokens. Why was so much focused place upon this? Did I miss something here? And why, when the captives knew that they were being observed constantly, and when they knew THEIR MINDS COULD BE READ, did they believe that they could successfully hatch an escape plan? I don’t fault them for trying to escape, but I wish this would have been handled differently. The ending reveal was also underwhelming. When a particular character explained the purpose of everything that had occurred throughout the story, it didn’t make such sense. How did this fit in with the goals the aliens were trying to achieve?
Enough complaining, so I’ll end on a positive note. For the first part of the story, with the puzzles, the tokens, the abundance of food, and the assurances that the human captives would not be harmed, it felt no more dangerous than an episode of Survivor. However, as the story progressed, there was an increasing sense that the humans were truly in danger. There was some gruesomeness and some frightening moments, (which I loved), and it was just enough to keep me interested enough to continue reading.
Note: This review is based on an ARC received from the publisher.