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REVIEW:  Caged Warrior by Lindsey Piper

REVIEW: Caged Warrior by Lindsey Piper

Caged Warrior (Dragon Kings #1) by Lindsey Piper

Dear Ms. Piper:

This book was billed as “Book 1 of the Dragon Kings” so imagine my confusion when the book featured neither dragons nor kings. I spent the first fifty pages or so wondering when the dragons were going to show up. Is the hero’s magical power turning into a dragon? No. Is it the heroine’s magical power? No. Are they going to be kings? No. Were they kings? No.

The hero is, however, a caged warrior. The mythology in the book took me a while to unpack but here goes. Leto is a slave kept for fighting in underground caverns owned by humans. Despite Leto and his people stronger, quicker to heal, and having some sort of magical powers, they are subservient to human criminal cartels. In the underground, these captives are forced to fight until death. Leto’s family has been part of the underground for generations. The prize of the annual “Grievance” is the right to procreate with any other slave of your choice, willing or unwilling.

Leto believes in the system and takes pride that he is the baddest muthfucka in the underground. He’s so alpha that he knocks around the heroine when they first meet, to establish his dominance and to show her that resistance is unwelcome. This is Leto’s world:

Leto had no key. He was let in and out by the Asters’ human guards. Cattle prods, Tasers, and napalm bullets kept even the most powerful Dragon King in check. The collars made it so.

Leto had never fought back. Why would he? This subterranean complex had always been his place of glory and purpose, where his father had fought. Where, in service to his loved ones, his father had died.

The slaves that fight and win are called Dragon Kings. Audrey MacLaren was kidnapped and forced into slavery. She hoped that she would survive to see her son but to do so she must learn to embrace a power she didn’t realize she possessed. Some world building takes the form of using “Dragon” as an adverb with Audrey says things like “Dragon be” and “Dragon damn” and “Dragon knows”.

The most challenging aspect of this book, other than the fact that Leto was really dislikeable, was that on the one hand we are to believe that the Dragon Kings aka slaves were so powerful that they could only be killed in one way, they harnessed kinetic energy and could release it like a weapon, yet were somehow subservient to humans who had to use all kinds of weaponry to keep the Dragon Kings contained. And it wasn’t this way for one year or two but generationally.  Later Leto, still imprisoned, says “He’s not a god,” Leto hissed. “He’s a lonayíp human.
We’re the gods.”

Much of the book is spent trying to teach Audrey how to claim her inner spirit and control her. This requires Leto to treat with her regular brutality which made a sort of sick sense. All he was trained to do was fight, hurt, win for the purpose of procreation. Leto’s character was confusing to me. Maybe I am too linear of a thinker to understand him. He did not seek freedom. He did not even feel himself oppressed yet he understood victimhood and expressed distaste toward Audrey for allowing herself to be mistreated.

The world building faltered a bit because procreation was really prized for the Dragon Kings, these underworld slaves, and reportedly it was very hard for them to have offspring. Audrey, however, has a natural born dragon warrior from a non Dragon King male. (This was one part of the story I did like – that Audrey had a previous marriage that was happy and satisfying).  Audrey was an outcast instead of being prized.  The inter family politics of the Dragon Kings was only lightly alluded to and not in a way that provided good explanation for Audrey’s position or even Leto’s position. I guess I’d find out in later Dragon King books but even though I love a good barbarian romance, this just didn’t do it for me.

Yes, the characters grew and yes, Leto came to the realization that Audrey’s weaknesses were really strengths but it takes a lot of really awful behavior to get to that point and I’m not really sure that I’m prepared to undergo that again for a book with a so so romance and confusing worldbuilding.  C-

Best regards,

Jane

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REVIEW:  Vicious Moon by Lee Roland

REVIEW: Vicious Moon by Lee Roland

Dear Lee Roland:

I confess, I picked this book up, expecting to put it down after a few pages, since I realized that this was the third book in a series, but the voice of Nyx Ianira just sucked me in. Unfortunately, that was the only thing that kept me reading.

Vicious Moon | Lee RolandDespite an idyllic-sounding childhood growing up in the swamps of southern Georgia, Nyx has spent the early years of her adult life cut off from the rest of her witch family. Rather than bowing to pressure from her coven to get married and start making witch babies, her Nyx’s response is to run away from home, join the army and spend ten years fighting in the world’s most brutal spots. When three Sisters of Justice who are basically the witch executioners, show up, Nyx runs, only to be taken rather easily by them. To her surprise, they dump her at her kindly old grandmother’s home. Apparently Nyx isn’t a “great communicator” having spent the last decade without any contact with her family, which is why her grandmother had them bring Nyx home to have a chat.

One would think that Nyx’s lovely grandmother would be at least a little peeved about having to send an execution squad in order to spend some time with her granddaughter, but no. Grandmother just welcomes Nyx, and sends her on a mission to find Nyx’s missing sister, Marisol. Nyx, despite painting her sister as the perfect witch in contrast to her own, self-described magical incompetence, immediately accedes to her grandmother’s request. As a bit of a Mary Sue-heroine, there is no hesitation on Nyx’s part, no jealousy that her grandmother didn’t set out to find Nyx when she disappeared years ago. And that’s the problem with this book; there’s little emotional nuance unless it is directly related to the plot.

Moreover, I found most of the characters to feel rather flat, except for the evil ones who are kind of ambiguously-evil-possibly-misunderstood-in-a-way-that-potentially-sets-them-up-to-be-protagonists-of-future-novels. In particular, I found Etienne, the hero to be a very generic version of the tall handsome tortured mercenary hero. As head of the captured demon Aiako’s army (who is bound by the Earth Mother to a derelict part of downtown Duivel, Missouri near a dimensional portal), Etienne is the foe-turned eventual lover. He’s got a serious thing against witches, having been enslaved by an evil one for years and to say he doesn’t trust Nyx is an understatement. Yet still, Etienne’s caveman overprotective instincts come out, despite the fact that Nyx is supposed to be just as much of a hardcore merc as he is. In fact, Etienne’s second in command, a dude by the name of Darrow is one of Nyx’s former comrades. Darrow is the generic mandatory-friend-who-gives-relationship-advice-and-by-which-we-learn-backstory. Since Darrow supposedly has had some death defying adventures with Nyx, Etienne’s determination to keep Nyx safe by installing her at their base not only undercuts Nyx’s alleged abilities, making her feel more like a Mary Sue, but feels like a forced plot point to ensure the two interact.

In addition towards the end, secrets are revealed in a way that I think should be rather unforgivable, considering the way that the characters were depicted. Etienne is described as a survivor of demon torture and fears only one thing: being enslaved by a witch again. In order to save their lives, Nyx does what Etienne fears most without any explanation. I didn’t understand why Nyx didn’t explain what she would be doing but I feel like the scene as it was depicted could have allowed time for explanation, making her come off as particularly insensitive. Of course, maybe Nyx was making up for the fact that the Etienne knowingly possessed knowledge that could have helped Nyx with her search for her sister and never gave it to her until it was too late. But that makes him much less of the kind of hero I want to read about.

Other issues I had was that as the novel progresses, Nyx transforms more and more into a Mary Sue, accessing powers she never had before and discovering more about her unique and powerful heritage. This kind of character progression is rather classic but what makes this rather ho-hum is that she seems to suffer few consequences.

The best part of this book, and pretty much the only thing that kept me going was the voice. Nyx was like Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse version of Ilona Andrews’s Kate Daniels; deadly competent in terms of combat but kind of clueless otherwise. I only wish the story and the characters had been better.

C-
Amy

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