Thursday, May 14, 2015

Review of The Cage by Megan Shepherd

Shepherd, Megan.  The Cage.  Balzer + Bray, 2015.  978-0-06-224305-8; 385p

Cora wakes up in the desert with no recollection of how she got there.  Her clothes and jewelry are gone, and she is wearing someone else’s dress.  The last thing she remembers is riding in the car with her brother, Charlie, to see their family in Virginia.  Dazed and confused, she begins trudging through the sand.

When she gets to a high point in the desert, she sees a farm, a winter tundra, an ocean bay, mountains, and a cityscape in the distance.  How can these environments exist right next to one another?   Cora meets four other kidnapped teens in a strange town with a mixture of cultures mingled together.  All throughout the habitats, there are black one-way windows—someone or something is watching her and the others.

A Caretaker, who supposedly watches over the teens, appears and tells them that they have been taken from Earth and placed in a type of zoo, provided with all the “comforts” of home.  They are told that there are only three rules they must follow.  First, in order to maintain their physical and mental strength, they must solve the enrichment puzzles scattered throughout the habitats.  Solved puzzles result in token rewards, which can be used to purchase items in the town.  The second rule is to maintain their health by eating the food provided for them, getting the proper amount of sleep each night, and cooperating in their mandatory health assessments.  Finally, the teens must engage in procreative activities by the time twenty-one days have passed.  To determine mates, the Caretaker has paired teens with one another via a constellation tattoo behind each one’s right ear.  If they do not comply with the rules, they will be removed or exterminated.

Cora and the others are shocked at their situation, especially by the rule three.  As they begin to trust one another, Cora desperately searches for a way to escape and get home.  However, trust soon turns to suspicion, jealousy, and a matter of life or death, as the Caretaker and the other Kindred who kidnapped them manipulate their lives.  Cora grows closer and closer to the Caretaker, but can she really trust him to help and protect them like he has promised?

What a terrific “Space Opera” Megan Shepherd has created with her new novel, the first in a new series of the same name!  The world building is superb—opposing habitats along side one another, archaic shops, a planet that is actually not a planet, but some asteroids.  The teens—a beautiful model, a nerd genius, a strong hulk, and the boy-next-door, seem like stereotypes, but, in reality, they are multi-dimensional characters, with much more personality than is what is originally revealed to the reader.  The layers are peeled away as the book progresses, producing unusual back-stories for each of the characters.  They all have secrets to hide and unusual quirks.  The forbidden love triangle that develops is shocking and intriguing.  Readers will be frustrated at the cliffhanger ending, but it is a series, after all, and the plot has to be set up for the next book.

The Cage will be released on May 26, 2015 and its sequel, as yet unnamed, in 2016.   Both science fiction and non-science fiction fans, alike, will enjoy The Cage.  I recommend it for middle school, high school, and public libraries and give it four out of five fleur de lis!

*Reviewer’s note:  The copy reviewed was an uncorrected proof received from the publisher at the 2015 TX Library Association Conference.