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Kingdom of Cages    by Sarah Zettel order for
Kingdom of Cages
by Sarah Zettel
Order:  USA  Can
Warner, 2002 (2001)
Hardcover, Paperback
* * *   Reviewed by Wesley Williamson

My previous review of Sarah Zettel's novel The Quiet Invasion gave high praise for her realistic portrayal of human motivations, but expressed some doubts about her aliens, and villains who were a little too villainous. Kingdom of Cages does not have aliens as such, though some of the humans qualify by my assessment. The principal villain is still a touch too villainously expert for belief, but in every other way this book illustrates the author's growing dexterity in handling complex plots and a surprising number of complex and developing characters. I am very much impressed.

The basis of the story is straightforward: all of Earth's colonies are being ravaged by continually mutating disease, human and environmental. All except one, that is. Pandora was originally set up as a biogenetics research outpost, but respect for the ecosystem has become a fanatic cult, controlled by small interbred families isolated in shielded, domed cities run by AI minds. A few strictly controlled villages are permitted outside the domes, whose inhabitants live on sufferance, in fear of being culled for experimentation. For whatever reason, Pandora is free of the diseases which are slowly killing off all the other colonies. The story begins as Starfleet forces threaten to invade Pandora unless a cure for the colonies' problems can be found.

The tale is told primarily from the point of view of two sisters, Chena and Teal Trust. They, and their mother, have qualities which are suspected to be necessary to provide an answer to Pandora's problem - though not necessarily the answer which Starfleet expects. The complexities of light and shadow in the personalities, of the sisters particularly, but of many other characters as well, are handled with a professional expertise. The action sequences are equally well managed. They keep the story moving rapidly along, and maintain its tension at a high level throughout. Kingdom of Cages is a powerful novel, sparkling with energy and imagination. Highly recommended.

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