Book Review: The Caged Queen

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I am thrilled to be taking part in the blog tour for The Caged Queen today! If you read my review of the first book in the series, The Last Namsara on Wednesday, you’ll know how much I loved that and how much I was looking forward to The Caged Queen. Fortunately, my copy of The Caged Queen arrived on the same day that I finished the previous book, and I’m glad to say I wasn’t disappointed in it.

the caged queen cover

Once there were two sisters born with a bond so strong that it forged them together forever. When they were angry, mirrors shattered, and when they were happy, flowers bloomed. It was a magic they cherished – until the day a terrible accident took Essie’s life and trapped her soul in this world.

Dax – the heir to Firgaard’s throne – was responsible for the accident. Roa swore to hate him forever. But eight years later he returned, begging for her help. He was determined to dethrone his cruel father, under whose oppressive reign Roa’s people had suffered. Roa made him a deal: she’d give him the army he needed if he made her queen.

Together with Dax and his sister, Asha, Roa and her people waged war and deposed a tyrant. But now Asha is on the run, hiding from the price on her head. And Roa is an outlander queen, far from home and married to her enemy. Worst of all: Dax’s promises go unfulfilled. Roa’s people continue to suffer.

Then a chance to right every wrong arises – an opportunity for Roa to rid herself of this enemy king and rescue her beloved sister. During the Relinquishing, when the spirits of the dead are said to return, Roa can reclaim her sister for good.

All she has to do is kill the king.

In theory, you don’t need to have read The Last Namsara in order to read The Caged Queen. It’s not a direct sequel, in that it doesn’t continue to follow Asha (although she appears), but it does start not long after the events of the first book, and will spoil that book slightly. Personally, I’m glad I read The Last Namsara first, as it gave me a deeper understanding of the world and characters, but you probably don’t need that to enjoy The Caged Queen on its own merits.

And what merits they are! I’ll admit that I wasn’t sure of it at first. It took me longer to warm to Roa than it did to Asha, especially as she seemed determined to be mean to Dax, who I’d loved in the first book. However, as we learn more of Roa’s story, we come to see why life in Firgaard’s palace is so frustrating for her, and it becomes clear that she faces an uphill struggle to be accepted as queen. There’s also the tragedy of her sister’s death for her to come to terms with – something she hasn’t been able to do for eight years – and by the end of the book I loved her. Not as much as I loved Dax probably, who continued to be adorable and sneaky and secretive, but still a lot.

The Caged Queen is much more about political intrigue than The Last Namsara and I loved it for it. This is what happens after the revolution, and it makes it clear that you can’t just kill the prevous king and your job is done. You have to work for acceptance, make some dirty compromises to get things done, and wait for the right time to implement drastic changes. Dax gets this. Roa doesn’t, and it was fascinating to see how her very different upbringing affected her world view and brought her into conflict with her husband. In the scrublands, where Roa is from, things are decided based on what’s best for the community, not one particular person, and once a decision is made, it’s actioned. The idea of essentially robbing Peter to pay Paul makes no sense to her, and I really enjoyed seeing her start to work out how Firgaard functions and use it to her advantage.

I enjoyed the storyline with Roa’s sister less than the political intrigue, but it was still interesting, and I particularly liked how it eventually tied in. Ciccarelli is very good at laying the groundwork for eventual revelations throughout the book and I love it when you get that “aha!” moment. And the conclusion of this subplot was…well, I can’t say, because it would completely spoil the book, but it was good and right and it made me cry (that’s not a spoiler, because I cry at almost everything these days, happy or sad!). In fact the same could be said of the end of the whole book. I had a little moment of hugging it to myself when I finished, with that satisfied feeling of knowing you’ve read something excellent.

We get to see more of the wider world this time, particularly Roa’s homeland, for obvious reasons, and mostly through backstory inserts. This really added to the sense of place, and I loved seeing some of the events we missed while following Asha in the last book. Roa’s history was also interesting and I liked seeing what brought her to the point where she was willing to marry someone she hated. The fairytale/myths chapters were back too, and I loved them as much as I’d loved them last time.

I read The Caged Queen in a couple of hours on a Saturday morning when I had a long list of other things I was supposed to be doing. I just couldn’t put it down for long enough to do any of them! It is not a choice I regret making though. Like The Last Namsara before it, The Caged Queen is the sort of book you want to be able to immerse yourself in, without any distractions from the real world. Go and find yourself a copy, make sure you have a free morning or afternoon, and settle in for a fantastic story. You won’t regret it!

Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the blog tour!

4.5/5

ARC provided by Stevie Finegan at Gollancz in return for an honest review. Thanks Stevie!

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Book Review: The Last Namsara

Last year at YALC I was given a proof of Kristen Ciccarelli’s The Last Namsara by another blogger. Everyone had been raving about it, so I was really excited to read it and I was thrilled to hae an early copy. Obviously it then sat on the TBR pile for 15 months because I’m a terrible, terrible person. However, I was offered the opportunity to review the second book in the series, The Caged Queen, and it seemed the perfect time to finally pick up The Last Namsara. I’m very, very glad I did, because I loved every minute of it, and raced through it over a couple of evenings.

last namsara cover

In the beginning, there was the Namsara: the child of sky and spirit, who carried love and laughter wherever he went. But where there is light, there must be darkness—and so there was also the Iskari. The child of blood and moonlight. The destroyer. The death-bringer.

These are the legends that Asha, daughter of the king of Firgaard, has grown up learning in hushed whispers, drawn to the forbidden figures of the past. But it isn’t until she becomes the fiercest, most feared dragon slayer in the land that she takes on the role of the next Iskari—a lonely destiny that leaves her feeling more like a weapon than a girl.

Asha conquers each dragon and brings its head to the king, but no kill can free her from the shackles that await at home: her betrothal to the cruel commandant, a man who holds the truth about her nature in his palm. When she’s offered the chance to gain her freedom in exchange for the life of the most powerful dragon in Firgaard, she finds that there may be more truth to the ancient stories than she ever could have expected. With the help of a secret friend—a slave boy from her betrothed’s household—Asha must shed the layers of her Iskari bondage and open her heart to love, light, and a truth that has been kept from her.

I loved Asha. Properly and truly loved her. Right from the start of the book we see how fiercely protective she is of those she loves, even when society dictates that she shouldn’t be – to the extent that she steps in front of a fire-breathing dragon to protect her cousin, even though she’s not wearing her fireproof gloves. This continues throughout the book – Asha would kill for her brother and cousin, a protection that is slowly extended to a number of other characters, although not always successfully – and it’s a trait that the villains know to exploit.

Asha’s not completely sympathetic. She’s very naive in some ways, and it takes her a long time to work out who the bad guy is. She also thinks nothing of the fact that her people have enslaved another race, until she accidentally gets to know one of the slaves her fiance keeps and she starts to question her treatment of them, and why there are slaves at all.  Given that her cousin is technically classed as a skral (the child of a forbidden love affair between Asha’s uncle and his mother’s slave) and Asha manages to see past that, this attitude did jar a little bit, but she does learn, and tries to be better. In fact, in numerous ways, Asha grows throughout the story, and is a very different person by the time we leave her to the one we first met, as she should be.

The Last Namsara is full of interesting characters. I loved Torwin and Dax with their secrets, and Safire who returns Asha’s loyalty in kind. Even the baddies are interesting. Jarek and the king are horrible people, but I did enjoy the anticipation of wondering what they were going to do next!

My favourite parts of the book, though, were the dragons and the stories. I love getting background through fairytale-like stories, and it worked really well in The Last Namsara. I don’t know if there was an extra frisson because the stories were forbidden within the book’s world, but I really enjoyed them. I also very much enjoyed the dragons in this book. I won’t say more than that, because spoilers, but I really liked them.

All in all, I think Ciccarelli has done a fantastic job in building a world I loved to visit. I mean, I’m pretty certain I wouldn’t want to actually live there, but visiting it in the pages of a book is definitely something I’m interested in doing multiple times. Which is handy, since there are at least three books in the Iskari series, although only two are out so far. I definitely recommend that you pick up The Last Namsara if you enjoy well-written fantasy with dragons, because you won’t regret it!

Come back on Friday to read my review of The Caged Queen as part of the blog tour!

4.5/5

ARC received as a gift from @ladyjulianne