Book Review: Caged Warrior (Dragon Kings #1) by Lindsey Piper

Next week Caged Warrior will revealed and I received an ARC copy through edelweiss thanks to Simon & Schuster and of course Lindsey Piper, for writing an honest and unbiased review. Caged Warrior, the first book in the Dragon Kings series, will be released on June 25. The second book, Blood Warrior, will be available on July 30. Silent Warrior is a prequel to these books and can easily be read separately.
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.

Dragon Kings are not your traditional fire breathing animals, they don't even change form, but they do have certain powers and healing skills. Each clan has a certain specialty, but Audrey (human name)/Nynn (dragon name) never had any powers until now.

Because of the horrible things they did to her in the lab, her powers manifested and she is send in the Cages. She has to fight if she wants her son to stay alive. Now Audrey has to leave everything behind if she wants to survive and hopefully escape.
"His jaw was fixed in an expression she'd learned to recognize: You will find no mercy here."
Thus enters Leto. From a very young age he was shaped into the warrior he is now. He fights to protect his family and so that they may reproduce. In the beginning I absolutely didn't like Leto. He's way too crude, sinister, borderline evil and cruel, all in the name of trying to break Audrey, so she can become a great fighter. I don't approve of his methods and the way he thinks has me convinced he's kind of brainwashed. Placing it in the story, I do understand where he comes from and why he has to do those things to her. Of course he grows during the story, certainly in his behavior towards Audrey, starts realizing some things about his bosses etc. but still I'm not totally convinced of the man. His personality is maybe a little too hard for my taste.
"Break her. What a lie. She'd taken everything thrown her way and absorbed it."
The things they did to Audrey in the lab are sickening. I was so glad Lindsey Piper didn't went too far in detail with that or I would have just skipped those passages. There are some things I can't read or see, things that are unforgivable. Still Audrey, having been through all that does not give up. That woman just keeps on fighting no matter what you throw at her. The love for her son and the hate for the Aster family motivates her to make it out alive.
"Yet he was sexy in the basest, most primitive sense. Weapons and armor and strength."
If she wants to escape or even just survive the Cage, she will need the help of Leto. Audrey hates him and what he represents, but she needs him and strangely she has this attraction towards him, but fights it because that feels like betrayal of her love for her (ex-)husband and the life she had before. In due time she this all sinks in and the hatred she has for him very slowly turns in something quite else.

Caged Warrior has a lot of action, mental gore, but also complexity and depth you don't always expect. The main focus is on Leto and Audrey, two very well rounded characters, each with real flaws, hurts, hopes and dreams. The dynamic between these two is simply amazing. Also Audrey is such a strong character, being gone through all that and never giving up is very admirable. Other than that there are some political choices made, which will probably affect the next books. Some side characters that will make your skin crawl, you can not help but hate them, they are that evil.
"I've seen the snow and the sun now, but without you, I'll live in the dark forever."
I am crazy about this book. Blood Warrior is on my TBR list and I hope it can keep up with Caged Warrior. As always I'm really curious how the two stories will connect. I can say nothing more, but you just have to read it!!!

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