Cagebird by Karin Lowachee. ★★★1/2
Trigger warning: rape, self harm, child abuse, child grooming…
Cagebird is the third novel in Karin Lowachee’s science fiction series exploring how a war psychologically impacts boys. The series starts with Warchild, which I still believe to be the best in the series. While each book has a different protagonist, I would recommend reading them in order.
At the age of four, Yuri Kirov’s home was destroyed in one of the initial attacks in the war between the humans/alien war. When the pirates found him, he was a child refugee who became trained as Falcone’s protege. Now at twenty-two he is a killer and a criminal serving out a life sentence on Earth. Then two men from the Black Ops decide that they’d rather Yuri return to the pirates to be their spy and weapon, but their plan puts him in more danger than ever.
In my review of Warchild I talked about how brutal and uncomfortable to read the book was. This is even more so for Cagebird, and at a certain point it just became too much. There are multiple, explicit rape scenes, all taking place before Yuri is fifteen. I question the necessity of showing such graphic scenes, especially as they were all flashbacks and not part of the current narrative.
Speaking of flashbacks, it felt like they comprised the majority of the book. I felt that this had the effect of putting the focus on all the horrible things that had happened in Yuri’s past instead of on a healing arc, which ended up feeling skimped. For a book where one of the end messages is “look to your future not your past,” Cagebird sure did spend a lot of time on the graphic details of Yuri’s past.
The current timeline did have a lot of promise, but I feel that much of it was underdeveloped. Take Finch’s character – he played such a large role in Yuri’s arc but he never felt like he was well characterized and developed. He seems to only exist in connection to Yuri.
So why did this book cross the three star mark? Because whatever the faults of the book, Karin Lowachee can write. She immediately establishes Yuri as having a distinctive voice, and I did end up feeling like I understood and sympathized with him, which from what I knew about him going in, I wasn’t sure would happen. There’s also some value in the messages of the current timeline, such as “you can get acclimatized to any environment, but it doesn’t mean the environment is a good one.”
What it comes down to is this: Does Cagebird‘s good points outweigh the focus on the sheer brutality? For me, it didn’t, and it’s not a book I’m going to ever reread. On the other hand, I am willing to continue with the series if Lowachee ever publishes a fourth book. I would still recommend Warchild and Burndive but I would advice anyone contemplating Cagebird to be aware of their own limits before starting.