(2018) Kristen Ciccarelli, Gollancz, £12.99, trdpbk, 379pp, ISBN 978-1-473-21816-1
The Caged Queen by Kristen Ciccarelli is set in the same world as The Last Namsara but is not a direct sequel so can be read as a standalone novel. It is classic 'swords and sorcery' type fantasy, with the possibility of an occasional dragon as well as a magic sword.
Roa has lost so much. She married the King of the Firgaardians and childhood friend, Dax, to try and get the political power she desperately needs to protect her people, but she betrayed her former betrothed to do so. The king seems to barely tolerate her and flirts with every woman he sees, her former love won't even be in the same room with her. Worst of all, her sister, Essie, died and her soul is trapped in the form of a hawk. So, Roa’s plan is to free herself and her sister, by killing the person responsible for Essie death, the king.
This novel, like the previous one, has a variety of female characters with strengths and weaknesses, their flaws perhaps making them entirely human, but without excluding male characters from the society. Safire is the leader of the Royal guard and she is portrayed as holding that role on her merits and skills, not as a political or token appointment. She is seen as a force to be reckoned with both tactically and in combat.
Roa is physically strong protagonist and trained to fight, but naive when it comes to court politics, which leaves her vulnerable. The reader finds themselves hoping that she can possibly find her way out of the intricate webs, but her straightforward approach just seems to get her tangled further.
The Caged Queen is a tale of love, but not just romantic love, the love of sisters torn apart, the love Roa has for her people, the love of childhood friend and a little romance along the way. It questions what we would give up for love, what price we would pay and when is too high. Ultimately Roa realises she can't be true to all the duties and loves, that she must choose which is the most important to her and which she is prepared to sacrifice.
Another interesting device, is that the page colours change when in a section of memory or action which took place before the timeline of the story. This clearly shows that it is outside of the story without having to explain why it is there or perhaps even which character the memory belongs to.
Roa fights hard for the scrubland tribes to be recognised as equal to the Firgaardians, this has analogies in real world multicultural societies and racism, but it is not a point that is belaboured by the author.
The story goes at a good pace and is easy to read. The characters are interesting and believable. If you enjoy this genre then it is absolutely worth reading.
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