Author: Lindsey Piper
Series: The Dragon Kings #1
Synopsis (according to Goodreads):
The first installment in the fierce and sensual new paranormal romance series featuring 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 scientists 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 eventually allies, Leto and Audrey learn that in a violent underground world, love is the only prize worth winning.
I bought this book to be read in my Paranormal Romance Book Club.
When I delved into this book, it started out smack-dab in the middle of Audrey's plight. I was a little caught off guard and had to quickly focus in on what was going on. To be perfectly honest, that was the theme throughout the entire book. I had to go back to the synopsis on several occasions in an attempt to understand what was going on. That was mainly, I figure, due to the fact that there was A LOT going on.
The story begins with Audrey awaking in a dank, drippy cell instead of the lab she has come to know so well. She has written her cousin, the leader of the Counsel of the five Dragon King families, pleading for help and awaits his response in this new circle of hell. She meets a no-nonsense warrior who is ruthless and cruel to the core. He is to be her trainer to fight in the Cage.
As the story progresses Audrey starts to find the warrior spirit within her, while Leto starts to learn the softer side of things. They take from each other what they were ultimately lacking in their lives. Audrey needed to no longer be a victim and Leto needed to no longer be a tormentor.
Audrey must overcome physical and mental limitations so she may fight for a years time and get her son back. She battles a gift she has no memory of ever using but fears all the same. She also fights against the overwhelming attraction to her mentor. She had just lost her husband, a man she loved with all her heart, and her son who was being poked and prodded in God knows how many ways, and yet she's still able to find companionship within Leto. I was a little hard-pressed to believe she could move on so easily not just from losing her husband and son, but from the physical torture and degradation she suffered within the laboratory. That sort of thing can really destroy a person. Audrey's resilience while admirable was almost unbelievable.
With Leto, I could see the potential for kindness within him. With the story's alternating viewpoints, I could see into Leto's every action and see that he never enjoyed pushing Audrey to her limits. He cared about her from the first moment he met her but getting over 20 years of brainwashing is not something easily done. To that aspect, it was believable and Leto fast became a potential book boyfriend.
While the story was hard to follow when Piper started referring to the families, histories, traditions, and guidelines of The Dragon Kings, the immediate actions of Leto and Audrey were easy enough. This book almost read like a middle book in a series. Something that mentions facts you should have already read about in previous books. Instead it is sprung on the reader in a most disorienting fashion. Even after reading the book cover-to-cover, I just realized that they are supposed to be demons from typing up the synopsis. There was no mention of that in the book. Only of a Dragon that birthed them (the devil?).
Caged Warrior takes its reader into a twisted world concocted of Roman gladiators and fantastical beasts, where love can be found even within the bowels of hell.