Cage of Deceit by Jennifer Anne Davis

Rating 7.5/10
An exciting, absorbing political fantasy experience

I read Cage of Deceit for the Self Published Fantasy Blog Off and can confirm that it has progressed through to Fantasy Book Review's internal semi-final stages. The opening episode of the Reign of Secrets trilogy is set a generation after the events of the True Reign saga. The author advises us that there won't be a 'neat, tidy wrap up at the end of this book' and that she 'enjoys leaving people hanging from cliffs.' This intrigued me from the get-go.

In the third person perspective, readers follow Allyssa. She is a princess who is the daughter of Empress Rena and her husband, the war commander Dermik. She is beautiful, elegant and intelligent, leading her to be desired by numerous suitors throughout the land. She has a content yet sheltered existence in the palace. She also acts out a mysterious double existence and moonlights as Lilly, a peasant lady who aims to eradicate crime in her city with the help of her true friend Grevik. Grevik, however, has no idea as to Lilly's true identity. It is only when Allyssa enters the city at night, unbeknown to anyone, that she can truly break out of her cage.

The world, politics and histories seem deep and well-crafted even though the action is only really set within Emperion and its surrounding areas. I'm certain in the following stories readers will see events much further afield. It starts off quite slow, switching between Allyssa's daily and night time errands whilst introducing and fleshing out her relationships with other members of the ensemble and gradually building up a really interesting and complex protagonist who I absolutely cared for. I'd definitely class this a YA fantasy of which I've admitted before I am not an expert, but for teenagers (ladies especially) looking to lose themselves in a deep fantasy world featuring arranged marriages, political turmoil, unpredictability and a main character they wish to root for then there is a lot to enjoy here. The narrative contains great royal balls, assassins, an unbearably arrogant prince and a squire whose motives are anything but transparent. It always seems like there is so much more going on behind the scenes or just out of Allyssa's reach that readers aren't privy to and therefore keeps us engaged and guessing. The ending was pretty intense as was promised although I did predict the big twist. That being said there are still many unknowns and loose ends waiting to be explored and explained in the following two entries. I'm looking forward to venturing back to this world as soon as I can. All in all, I had a pleasantly positive experience reading this. My only real criticisms are that it took me awhile to get used to words like 'geezer' and 'blimey' being spoken in this environment and very occasionally a word would be repeated a few times within a page when alternatives may have flowed better.  As you can see I'm 'scraping the barrel' here to find anything negative which loudly expresses the overall quality of this story. Cage of Deceit is an exciting, absorbing political fantasy experience that is expertly polished with reference to the writing and editing. Davis already seems to have a large following and I can understand why. A highly enjoyable SPFBO tale that younger fantasy book lovers will probably adore and one that I devoured within 24 hours.

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