"Kingdom of Cages" (2001) is a science fiction novel by SF and fantasy author Sarah Zettel. Zettel won the Locus Award for Best New Novel for "Reclamation" and also wrote the New York Times Notable Book of the Year "Fool's War".

"Kingdom of Cages" is set in the far future. Humanity has colonized and spread out over countless planets. Recently, dozens of the colony planets are suffering environmental collapse and strange new diseases, threatening to wipe out the human race. One planet, Pandora, is untouched by this crisis. Pandora is the most Earth-like of all the planets and is kept in pristine shape by its inhabitants, ecologists and geneticists, who live in dome cities to study and preserve the natural riches of their planet.

As the story begins, representatives from the dying colony planets deliver an ultimatum: Pandora's brilliant scientists must find a cure for the impending crisis, or their untouched paradise will be destroyed. The main characters of the novel, the young girls Teal and Chena Trust, are chosen to participate in the "Eden Project" which will presumably save humanity. They quickly find out that Pandora's scientists may need more from them than they are willing to give.

"Kingdom of Cages" is an interesting novel which works on many levels: an environmental story, a science fiction novel and a coming of age tale. However, I found some plot elements unlikely or far-fetched, and some things are extremely over-simplified. This, combined with the young age of the two protagonists, make this novel sometimes resemble Young Adult or adolescent fiction. It's also disappointing that the resolution seems rushed and unsatisfactory after almost 600 pages. Despite all of this, "Kingdom of Cages" is not a bad read for young SF readers, fans of Sarah Zettel and maybe those who are particularly interested in ecology.



Note: the title of the novel comes from "Wild Birds", a poem my Jan Harmon: "Thank heaven for wild birds/ They're all dressed up in feathers, with colors outrageous./ They soar from this earthly bound kingdom of cages/ On delicate wings, so small and courageous...". The cover art, a piece by renowned fantasy artist Michael Whelan, is beautiful but doesn't seem to have much to do with the story.

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