Ten years ago, Audrey MacLaren chose to marry her human lover, making her an exile from the Dragon Kings, an ancient race of demons once worshiped as earthly gods. Audrey and her husband managed to conceive, and their son is the first natural-born Dragon King in a generation–which makes him irresistible to the sadistic scientist whose mafia-funded technology allows demon procreation. In the year since her husband was murdered, Audrey and her little boy have endured hideous experiments.
Shackled with a collar and bound for life, Leto Garnis is a Cage warrior. Only through combat can Dragon Kings earn the privilege of conceiving children. Leto uses his superhuman speed and reflexes to secure the right for his two sisters to start families. After torture reveals Audrey’s astonishing pyrokenesis, she is sent to fight in the Cages. If she survives a year, she will be reunited with her son. Leto is charged with her training. Initially, he has no sympathy for her plight. But if natural conception is possible, what has he been fighting for? As enemies, sparring partners, lovers, and eventual allies, Leto and Audrey learn that in a violent underground world, love is the only prize worth winning.
This blurb came from the author’s website.
E: I read Piper’s iintroduction to this series the novella Silent Warrior which was reviewed by Has and MinnChica earlier and thought the world was interesting and the premise had potential so I was looking forward to reading Caged Warrior. While I think the world is still interesting I found there was something missing. To me Caged Warrior read much better as a fantasy then as a romance. Once I figured that out I enjoyed reading it a lot more but it still seemed unpolished.
Has: I totally agree with you about the premise and setting, I also felt it wasn’t as fleshed out although I had a better idea of the Dragon Warrior and Clan structures but it was also too vague. I also had trouble understanding if the Dragon Warriors were hidden in society or out in the open and I couldn’t understand how humans had the upper hand in controlling powerful beings just by enslaving them with collars so easily. I wished this was explained more.
While I found the world-building much better in Caged Warrior, I have to say I wasn’t that keen in the romance. I just couldn’t warm up to Leto’s character who was a total arse to the heroine although it made sense why because he wanted to toughen her up for the up-coming matches but I think it affected the romance for me. He was too harsh and I felt sorry for Audrey who was an outsider in so many ways. But I did like her character and she was one of the reasons that I kept on reading because I found it hard initially to get into the book in the beginning.
E: I actually felt sorry for Leto. He was born into that particular society and brainwashed to continue promoting its brutality and removal of the Dragon Warriors from all aspects of society. However, even with that said he was a brute that I never bought into as a romance hero which is one of the reasons why this seemed a better fantasy novel. Granted he did come to value Audrey for her own sake and did what he could to help her survive and resist but he needed a lot of redeeming. I was glad that he started seeing the light but I was sorry it took so much betrayal by those he served before he finally realized part of the truth.
Audrey was an interesting character. She really had the rough end of the stick and things kept getting worse. I almost found myself wishing she could mentally go away and not have to deal with anymore torture because each time I thought things had reached their low point something else happened. I will say that despite all of that I did like that she continued fighting and trying to get her son back despite all of the torture and betrayal. I was so invested in her that when she did get a momentary mental break I was worried that her inner self wouldn’t come back.
Has: I felt the same way. It was hard reading the torture and the darkness she was experiencing especially since it was so unfair. But when she was being manipulated and brainwashed, halfway through the book into believing she wanted to be an underground fighter and desiring the approval and acceptance of her captors – I felt there was an interesting dichotomy between her and Leto who finally realises at this point that his life was a lie and everything he strove for was meaningless. I felt this was an interesting contrast but I definitely agree, it took that long for his realisation especially since his existence before hand didn’t have much. It also empathized how the humans had so much sway and control over the Dragon Warriors and that really didn’t make much sense.
I also didn’t understand the whole breeding programme and then permissions to grant warrior clans to have children, especially since it is hard to bear children with the Dragon race. And I felt something was missing with Audrey because she was able to have a son, who was a dragon warrior but was treated like a total outsider and an outcast who fell into the clutches of the Astor family. It does look like the follow-up will focus on the clan leaders who have lost power and trying to regain back what they lost from the humans and their previous status. I really like the premise and world-building, but at the same time I do find it hard to try to figure out because it is complex but at the same time vague although a few of the questions I had in the first novella was answered.
E: Piper included several large pieces of world-building in this novel that were not addressed in the novella. Unfortunately they conflicted with the world view I had previously established so I spent some serious mental effort trying to reconcile all of the bits and pieces along with the series of new characters and their ever changing loyalties and powers together. While I liked learning more about different “families” having different powers there were other aspects that were a bit jarring. Such as undercover Warriors who appeared to be playing both sides, the ruling council and their extreme inefficiency, Dragon King archaic rules that hurt rather than helped, and mysterious powers held by those under the Asters. Separately, I found each to be intriguing but the combination was a bit overwhelming.
I am curious to see what is going to happen to the council, the freed Dragon Warriors and the undercover group as they struggle to regain their place in society so Piper has hooked me. As I said at the beginning I think this works better as a fantasy and even with that it does continue to have some flaws. I hope that the next novel is smoother and fills in some of the world-building details because I do continue to think the world is fascinating. The social structure, power balance or imbalance, and the threads of a revolt are intriguing and have left me with several questions and events to ponder.
I give Caged Warrior a C
Has: I think you summed it up about what worked and what didn’t about the structure of the world-building and the elements that made it up. I think there was just too much happening at the same time, which feels overwhelming. But I definitely agree that the Dragon Kings’ societal hierarchy is an interesting and intriguing premise and I definitely am interested in reading more about about them but I hope the next romance improves because I think Caged Warrior suffered in this one due to the world-building. I also would like to know the reason why the Dragon Kings are called Dragons because they don’t seem to shapeshift although each clan has a power specialty which I like.
Overall, while I think I liked the romance better in the first novella introducing this world, Caged Warrior does expand slightly the premise. I just wished I could warm to the romance but that left me a bit cold and even though I get why Leto was this harsh and at times brutal man, he is definitely no hero or even anti-hero. But on the other hand reading Audrey’s struggle for independence, freedom and to regain her son, was the real highlight of the book, even though it was hard to read at times. And I liked how she reconciled her own identity for being a Dragon King warrior and accepting that status – But even though CAGED WARRIOR had flaws, I did enjoy the wider main plot about the political struggle for the enslaved Dragon Kings to gain their freedom and I hope and think this will evolve to be a very promising series.
I give Caged Warrior a C