ARC Review: Caged Warrior by Lindsey Piper ★★★★

Caged Warrior by Lindsey Piper
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Series: Dragon Kings #1
Publication Date: June 25th 2013
ISBN: 9781451695915
Page Count: 380
Rating: ★★★★
Review Copy: ARC
Reviewed by: Janice
Synopsis: The first installment in this fierce and sensual new paranormal romance series features demonic gladiators, ruthless mafia villains, and a proud race on the brink of extinction.

Ten years ago, Audrey MacLaren chose to marry her human lover, making her an exile from the Dragon Kings, an ancient race of demons once worshiped as earthly gods. Audrey and her husband managed to conceive, and their son is the first natural-born Dragon King in a generation—which makes him irresistible to the sadistic scientist whose mafia-funded technology allows demon procreation. In the year since her husband was murdered, Audrey and her little boy have endured hideous experiments.

Shackled with a collar and bound for life, Leto Garnis is a Cage warrior. Only through combat can Dragon Kings earn the privilege of conceiving children. Leto uses his superhuman speed and reflexes to secure the right for his two sisters to start families. After torture reveals Audrey’s astonishing pyrokenesis, she is sent to fight in the Cages. If she survives a year, she will be reunited with her son. Leto is charged with her training. Initially, he has no sympathy for her plight. But if natural conception is possible, what has he been fighting for? As enemies, sparring partners, lovers, and eventual allies, Leto and Audrey learn that in a violent underground world, love is the only prize worth winning.

REVIEW

A deliciously dark paranormal read 

The world of Lindsey Piper's Dragon Kings series is a dark, dark place. Darker, even, than it was in the series prequel novella, which told the story of Hark and Silence (you can read my glowing review of Silent Warrior HERE). Whereas Hark was a charming chatterbox who cheerfully rocked the boat - and the world of his lady love, Silence - CAGED WARRIOR's Leto comes off as almost rigid in comparison, a brainwashed warrior who has bought into a rotten bill of goods. He is not the kind of hero readers will be able to easily connect with - not like Hark was - and he is guilty of saying and doing things that some may find difficult to forgive.

You may be asking yourself, then, why I rated this book 4 stars. It's simple, really. Because dark stories are my cup of tea, and I have a deep and abiding love for flawed characters. I liked that Leto wasn't a classic hero, and I enjoyed peeling back his layers and discovering the man beneath the tough-as-nails exterior. Leto isn't irredeemable, he just needs a wake-up call. A reason to look around and question the system he's been part of for too long. That reason comes in the form of one of the human cartel's prisoners, a woman named Audrey.

Poor Audrey. The brutality of what she goes through in the cartel's lab, the terrible deal she is forced to make....it's tough to stomach. I was so pissed off over what she was forced to endure that at times I could hardly see straight - and that, I think, was the whole point. The corruption and just plain evilness of the human cartels, and the desperate deal some of the dragon kings felt compelled to make in exchange for breeding rights, was supposed to work me up into a furious lather, and boy, did it ever! I wanted all those cartel douchebags to die slow and horrible deaths. 

Like the rest of the book, the romance is dark, with a gritty, almost aggressive feel to it. There are few soft and tender moments between Leto and Audrey, but then, in this world, I'm not sure how there could be. Stakes are high and the dangers are very real, and I think the romance had to reflect that.

If I had one complaint about this book, it's that the setting is a bit...muddy. As with the prequel, I never got a clear sense of where things were taking place or even what the year was. Perhaps that was intentional on the author's part, her way of showing the isolation of her dragon characters and how cut off they were from the outside world. I'm really not sure. All I know is I wanted more details and didn't get them.

CAGED WARRIOR's dark undercurrents may not appeal to everyone, but if you enjoy edgy  paranormal reads as much as I do, this may be just the series you're looking for. The characters are strong and legitimately kickass, and the book has more than enough drama, feels and action to keep you turning the pages. Personally, I loved it, and I've already got book 2 on my reading list.

**Note: If you plan to read this book, I would strongly encourage you to read the prequel novella first, as some of the things that happen in Hark and Silence's story carry over into this one.**

4 Stars ★★★★
ARC provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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