Rating: 4.5 Stars
Synopsis via Goodreads:
They’ve left the cage—but they’re not free yet.
After their failed escape attempt, Cora, Lucky, and Mali have been demoted to the lowest level of human captives and placed in a safari-themed environment called the Hunt, along with wild animals and other human outcasts. They must serve new Kindred masters—Cora as a lounge singer, Lucky as an animal wrangler, and Mali as a safari guide—and follow new rules or face dangerous consequences. Meanwhile, Nok and Rolf have been moved into an enormous dollhouse, observed around the clock by Kindred scientists interested in Nok’s pregnancy. And Leon, the only one who successfully escaped, has teamed up with villainous Mosca black-market traders.
The former inhabitants of the Cage are threatened on all fronts—and maybe worst of all, one of the Hunt’s Kindred safari guests begins to play a twisted game of cat and mouse with Cora. Separated and constantly under watch, she and the others must struggle to stay alive, never mind find a way back to each other. When Cassian secretly offers to train Cora to develop her psychic abilities—to prove the worthiness of humanity in a series of tests called the Gauntlet—she’ll have to decide fast if she dares to trust the Kindred who betrayed her, or if she can forge her own way to freedom.
That ending . . . I can’t. I just can’t even.
I’m super impressed by this series. There are so many ways in which this book could have been horrible.
Instead, I think this may be one of my top favorite alien-esque books I’ve ever read. Definitely one of the best alien series I’ve ever read, by far.
My biggest complaint with Shepherd’s previous books and series was that there were always parts that lagged, in my opinion. I would grow bored. The love interests would either get all my love or all my indifference.
But here . . . Shepherd is able to give me characters who betray, hurt people who trusted them, but they’re also redeemable. I loved that. Too often authors write about characters that could do no wrong . . . or are the bad guys, but are secretly cinnamon rolls on the inside.
Here, Cassian has betrayed Cora big time. And now we get to see the aftermath of that. Personally, had I been Cora, I would have slugged him the next time I saw him.
Instead, Cora plots. She’ll play along with Cassian’s plan to win the Gauntlet, let him hone her powers to prove humanity’s worth. But she’ll do it her way.
I loved that. I loved that while Cora is given two bad options repeatedly, she decides to make a third option for herself.
Cassian completely redeems himself in my eyes. He betrayed her before, plain and simple, but he regrets it now, and understands he has to earn Cora’s trust back.
I loved that Cora was never afraid to let Cassian have it. She’ll call him on his BS at all times, call out on his double-standards, on his betrayal. She understands he’s risking everything to help humanity, but Cora’s risking her life too. She’s not about to let him push her around, tell her what to do and when.
She’ll let him help her, will rely on him, but she’ll keep her own secrets tucked away too.
Cora doesn’t trust easily. She’s not one to throw herself under the bus for everyone around her. She doesn’t have a martyr complex. Showing the Kindred that humans aren’t animals is a priority, yes, but her first priority is saving her friends, then herself. She won’t risk everything for the humans around her, because she understands that she can’t save everyone.
That doesn’t mean she won’t still try to win the Gauntlet, though. Hell, she’ll even cheat it to win . . .
Nothing says humanity like cheating a competition to show the Kindred how evolved we are, huh?
I thoroughly enjoyed the romance aspect of this. It’s subtle. I don’t think I can really classify this as a love triangle, because it always seemed like Lucky was never going to really have a chance with Cora, and both were okay with that. Yeah, some kissing happened last book, but they were also thrown together in a cage and told they were each other’s perfect matches and, also, they need to reproduce together.
Obviously, I think anyone would loose their minds a little.
I loved their friendship. It’s not awkward because of the kisses before. They both made mistakes, and they let it go.
I also loved that while there are a few times Cassian reaches out to Cora, tries to get her to reciprocate his feelings, she can’t completely let go of his betrayal. Can’t say I blame her. Had it been me, I don’t know if I’d ever be able to fully trust him again.
And Cora’s still attracted to him, sure. And she won’t be cruel to Cassian about it, but his betrayal is something that’s going to take time to get over.
I was pretty over his betrayal by the end of the book, though, let me tell you.
My only issue are these gosh darn endings Shepherd seems so happy to give us. My, gosh. Can it be next year yet, please?