Cora Mason was on her way to the first real family vacation she had in years in wintry Virginia. Now, somehow, she wakes up in the midst of a red desert in punk rock clothes that she never owned. Trying to remember what her father’s guard had told her in case she was kidnapped for ransom because of her father’s political position, she stays in one place and waits for someone to find her. After awhile of sitting there with no one even visible in the distance, she travels from the desert and magically appears on a beach with a dead girl.
Lucky wakes up near a beach, and when he reaches the beach he sees the girl who’s life he ruined. The girl that he sent to juvie for 18 months for some type of accident.
When he goes to meet her, they notice that they are both tagged with some type of black marking on their necks. . He sees that the dead girl has bruises on her arm showing sign of a struggle, and so he pairs with Cora to travel into the city.
Once they reach the city, they meet large New Zealand boy named Leon, a genius boy from London named Rolf, and an emotional Thai girl who worked as a model in London named Nok. Rolf notices all the big black windows with shadows behind them, suggesting that they are being watched.
When Rolf solves a puzzle in the candy shop, candy flies out of the machine for anyone to grab. Another puzzle is solved in a different shop, tokens come out so that you could buy something from a “toy store”. After their meals start arriving, they realize that they are being kept for some unknown purpose. When their “Caretaker” arrives in order to tell them the rules of the place, they notice that his skin looks metallic and that his eyes are black, he is not human. What scares them more are the 3 rules, they must solve puzzles to gain tokens, they must maintain their health, and they must have sex (conduct “reproductive activities”) within the first 21 days of being in the area.
Cora grabs the Caretaker as he is transported out of the habitat, and is teleported outside where she sees that the supposed habitat is simply a cage for them. Once the caretaker seems to be on her side and helps the other aliens not to kill her immediately for insubordination, she gets back into what is now the cage and tries to work with the others in the group to escape this place. However escape will be a struggle, because this place is not purposefully horrible, but instead is also satisfying and a paradise to some members of the group.
Throughout the book, we explore the human psyche as they are trapped by these aliens, hear about stories outside the habitat when eventually the dead girl is replaced by a girl who’s lived with them before, and explore the interesting backstories for each character. All the children come from different walks of life and are having different experiences within the Cage, some love the idea of not having to provide anything for themselves and simply surviving happily, some cannot fathom the idea of not being in control and constantly fighting for their rights.
I enjoyed this book by Meghan Shephard, albeit not as much as the Madman’s Daughter trilogy. It took me awhile to get past the seemingly slow first 100 pages into the fast paced action of the rest of the book. I enjoyed learning about each of the individual character’s stories although I wish we had heard more from the characters of Leon and the girl who shows up later. The book does not finish up nicely, but in facts leaves off on a cliffhanger for the next book in the series, which is unlike the Madman’s Daughter trilogy where I read the first book and could have possibly been completely satisfied.
I liked the character Cora’s strength as she did the time for a crime that she hadn’t committed, but by the same token I disliked Nok’s lack of strength even after going through her modeling job. The book shined a light on child exploitation in four completely different ways, but did not spend as much time speaking about them as they could have.
I hope that the next book in the series ties up all the loose ends, and possibly holds more of an attraction for me so that I don’t spend any time reading it and feeling like a chore.
Overall rating: 4/5