The Gauntlet by Megan Shepherd
Book Three of The Cage series
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Publication Date: May 23, 2017
Rating: 3 stars
Source: eARC from Edelweiss
Summary (from Goodreads):
The Maze Runner meets Scott Westerfeld in the final novel in the gripping and romantic Cage series, about teens abducted from Earth by an otherworldly race.
Cora and her friends have escaped the Kindred station and landed at Armstrong—a supposed safe haven on a small moon—where they plan to regroup and figure out how to win the Gauntlet, the challenging competition to prove humanity’s intelligence and set them free. But Armstrong is no paradise; ruled by a power-hungry sheriff, it’s a violent world where the teens are enslaved and put to work in mines. As Nok’s due date grows closer, and Mali and Leon journey across space to rescue Cassian, the former inhabitants of the cage are up against impossible odds.
With the whole universe at stake, Cora will do whatever it takes, including pushing her body and mind to the breaking point, to escape Armstrong and run the Gauntlet. But it isn’t just a deranged sheriff she has to overcome: the other intelligent species—the Axion, Kindred, Gatherers, and Mosca—all have their own reasons to stop her. Not knowing who to trust, Cora must rely on her own instincts to win the competition, which could change the world—though it might destroy her in the process.
What I Liked:
The Gauntlet is the final book in Megan Shepherd's second YA trilogy. I read and neither loved nor hated her debut trilogy, and I had high hopes for this series. Overall, I liked this science fiction trilogy more than I liked her historical fiction trilogy, but I wasn't completely impressed by this conclusion novel. I didn't hate it, but I didn't love it either. It was a decent conclusion though!
Cora and the gang have escaped from the Kindred and have made it to Armstrong, a small moon that is supposed to be safe. But when they are stranded there and captured by the Sheriff of Armstrong and her ruthless human army, Cora fears that she will not be able to run the Gauntlet. Meanwhile, Mali and Leon attempt to rescue Cassian, who sacrificed himself to let Cora and the others escape. With a little help, Cora and the gang escape on Armstrong - and Cassian escapes from the Kindred, with Mali and Leon. It all comes down to the Gauntlet. If Cora succeeds, an evolutionary jump will boost humans' natural abilities and help them overthrew the powerful species that is hunting them. If she fails, she'll die, and so will all of the other humans, and the Kindred too. It's do or die, and it all comes down to the Gauntlet.
“The wolves are strong. But the rabbits are clever.”
That line is my favorite of the book, and probably the series in general. It speaks to me on so many levels. Anya needs to hear it several times throughout the story, and it really is good encouragement. This line holds true for the duration of the book; the wolves are the Kindred, the evil humans, the Axion, and the rabbits are Cora and the other humans who are trying to escape.
Like the previous books, this one is written in third-person limited, with POVs of various characters. Cora's POV is the most important and the most common, but we also get to read from Rolf's and Leon's (and maybe Mali's too, if I remember correctly). Cora has shown a lot of character growth from book one to this book, as did Leon, and Rolf, and Nok. Nok surprised me by becoming one of my favorites of the "original" band of humans, from book one. I also adored Leon and his heroic self.
Cassian isn't present for about half of this book, and I definitely wanted him to be around more than he was, but I liked his stable presence in the second half of the book. Cassian is a good man and a very important player in the series. I wish the author wrote chapters from his POV though - he's easily the most interesting guy of the cast, but he seems one-dimensional sometimes, because of his mechanical, distant nature. But Cassian is so complex and interesting, and I think chapters from his POV would have the story even more intriguing.
In terms of the romance, there are several romances and no love triangles. Rolf and Nok are a solid couple, and despite their current circumstances, I like how they grow to love each other even more. Leon and Mali are adorable together - they're both combative, which is funny to watch. Cassian and Cora are my favorite pair, and I really wish there were more scenes featuring them, in this book.
There is a looooot of good science in this book. When I say "good", I mean interesting, noteworthy, and thought-provoking. It's not just the planet-hopping or the space travel or the advanced intelligent species with supernatural abilities. Shepherd includes a variety of scientific issues worth discussing - the treatment of animals, the evolution of humans, mining resources. The setting of this book is purely fictional, but the scientific basis behind it is fascinating.
As far as conclusion novels go, the plot of this one wasn't bad. In fact, there was a good amount of action and the stakes were incredibly high. I wasn't bored or uninterested for the most part, though I did start to lose a little interest as the Gauntlet dragged on. The Gauntlet begins around the three-quarter mark (or thereabout), and it seems like it drags on. More on that below. In any case, the first half of the book was gritty and harsh, and the second half of the book was heart-pounding and yet a little predictable. The ending of the book was bittersweet and I didn't particularly love it. But it's not a bad ending.
What I Did Not Like:
I can't say I was bored while reading this book, because that wouldn't be true, but my interest definitely slowed down as the end got closer. It felt like the closer Cora got to the Gauntlet, the less interested I became. And then the actual Gauntlet course took forever! I started flipping the pages a little faster.
The predictability of the ending was a little annoying too. We all knew what was going to happen with the Gauntlet! Why not shake things up a bit? The ending of this book, in terms of the Gauntlet, was very obvious and probably the easiest way out. A little cliche though.
Also, you know how at least one main character has to die at the end of a trilogy? In my opinion, the wrong one died. Just my opinion. It wasn't Cora or Cassian, I'll tell you that. But the wrong character died.
Speaking of Cora and Cassian... they were hardly together in this book! As in, they didn't really even see each other until the last quarter of the book or so! And when they did finally see each other - man, I was expecting some swoony times! Sexy times! Anything! These two barely even kiss once! I can't help but feel a little disappointed. Cassian and Cora share some borderline steamy moments in The Cage and The Hunt - but the author gave us nothing, in this book.
Also, the ending in terms of Cassian/Cora did not leave me happy at all. Just saying. I need an epilogue in which Cora changes her mind of something. I'm trying to be vague, but gah! I'm annoyed and disappointed in the ending (in terms of Cassian and Cora). The ending in general is not bad. Though I did find it a little underwhelming - but I found the entire climax underwhelming.
Would I Recommend It:
I liked the series overall, definitely more than Shepherd's debut trilogy. I think this series is a good science fiction series, but it's not a life-changing series in general, you know? I do recommend it if you enjoy YA science fiction, but I don't necessarily recommend it in general.
However, I recommend this book if you've read the previous books in the series, or even if you've only read the first book. Finish the series! It's a fairly good series, and definitely worth finishing. This conclusion novel wasn't a great finish, but I loved the second book (The Hunt).
3 stars. I'm disappointed in myself, because the last two books I read were YA science fiction, and both got 3 stars from me! I love science fiction and I fully expected to love both books. Maybe it is my mood - though I don't think so! Any have Summer/Fall 2017 YA science fiction recommendations for me? Pre-published is preferred!
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