A Review of Chained (Cage of Lies #1), by Susanne Valenti

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***Find Susanne Valenti here!***

Terrified of the contamination and the creatures it has created, humanity hides behind The Wall. No one knows what lies beyond the wasteland. Maya has never thought much about what might still be out there, lurking in the forgotten places. But when she’s thrust into the unknown, she is forced to question everything she has ever been told. Not everyone outside died, some of them became something… else. As her heart is torn in two, every choice she makes is harder than the last. What she discovers will change her forever. She knows she will probably die, but Maya has seen enough of death and she won’t let it have her without a fight.

– – – – –

Rating: 3/5 Stars
Quick Reasons: interesting ideas and complex, wide-arcing plot points; realistic dialogue, relate-able characters, heart-turning action; sort of awkward POV shifts in random places; a sense of “flatness” to the writing overall

I received a copy of this book from the author for review! Many thanks to Susanne Valenti for this opportunity. (This in no way changed how I read or reviewed this novel.)

This is the first book in a new dystopian series. Due to this, there ARE parallels and similarities to other big-name reads such as Divergent, by Veronica Roth and The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins. However, these parallels are very minute, and aren’t easily noticed unless you’re actively seeking them out. Of course, all dystopians, as a formulaic genre, will share similar ideas and plot points, so this wasn’t a big deal for me.

The characters are interesting and unique, with their own backstories and tie-ins to the world Susanne Valenti starts this novel off with: a walled-in city. When the opportunity arises for environmentalists/researchers to go outside the wall and collect earth samples, our main character and her best friend jump on the chance. But outside the wall, the world’s not quite what it would seem…and with one small decision, things go very wrong. When they’re banished from the city to a Subwar battlefield as criminals, expected to serve out their time relaying messages back and forth across the dangerous zone, they learn that maybe the city’s been wrong this whole time.

I really enjoyed the interactions at the beginning between Maya and Taylor. They’ve got that “best friends since childhood” relationship on lock, and the dialogue between them is both realistic and entirely too entertaining. I found myself giggling as snark and insults crept back and forth across the pages. They sort of… “complete” each other in the special way that the best of friends do, and I had a ton of fun reading about it. The other characters that are introduced along the way bring their own emotions and personalities to the forefront, and mesh pretty well all-together. Some of these interactions are NOT so believable; I found it hard to believe that so many different people from two entirely separate walks of life would get along so easily, so quickly. There were moments I expected shouting matches, slurs, and even perhaps physical violence…which somehow all ended in laughter and “respect” instead? I don’t know. I don’t think there was enough dramatic tension to make this entirely realistic.

There were also some problems with world-building overall. Certain plot points were pretty predictable and easy to see coming, and I was confused about a lot of the “city” moments. For instance, I spent a great deal of the beginning half thinking the city was really just one huge underground settlement….when really there’s much more to it, and it’s not underground at all. I felt certain important facts or details the reader needed at the beginning of this venture were left out entirely or thrown in much, much later (like, after I’d already formed a picture of the scene in my head and been running with it for 50+ pages).

The writing is good—not poetic or lyrical, but also easy to read and to derive mental pictures from. While formulaic, the plot kept moving at a decent clip and while I was disappointed in Taylor’s “coma” state for the second half (I feel he might have brought the dramatic tension I was seeking so desperately, especially given the blossoming relationship between Maya and Coal) I wasn’t too disappointed in the story itself. It does sort of fall a bit flat overall, though. I didn’t really feel that sense of “need to know” or “rushing headlong into chaos” that I love getting from books; I was invested, but not invested enough to actively seek out reading any spare second I could.

Overall, this was a great first book. I’ll probably be seeking out the second once it’s been published, as I wasn’t entirely without hope for these characters. I’d recommend for lovers of dystopian worlds, action-packed fight scenes, and characters who find their way despite dark circumstances. My hat’s off to Susanne Valenti for an entertaining read!

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