Caged by Lorelei James (2015)
Although Caged is the fourth book in Lorelei James’ Mastered series, it can absolutely stand alone. The story focuses upon two characters that were peripheral in the first book in the series. Molly Calloway is the female protagonist, and if you’re new to the series what you need to know about her is that she was mugged, and afterwards she enrolled in a self-defense class taught at Black Arts dojo. Deacon McConnell, the male protagonist, is an instructor at Black Arts but he also is a fighter in the dojo’s MMA training program. This is a romance, so the summary of the novel is exactly what you’d expect–they meet, they breakup, they makeup and live happily ever after.
I’m still pondering the rise of the MMA fighter as a trendy male character in romance novels, but it works in this book; in fact, perhaps it is this very aspect of Deacon’s character that is critical to his development because in many ways this particular career choice marginalizes him. The shaved head, the tattoos, and the aggression of the sport further push him to the fringes. It also gives James the opportunity to breakdown a stereotype (even if she does so in a conventional way). His relationship with Molly gives him a connection to another person, and because of it the friendships he’s made with the instructors at Black Arts appear to deepen. By the end of the story, he’s also able to reconcile some of his family issues. The loner is no longer a loner or a social outcast. He is no longer the man apart or the man alone. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Molly, a woman who has been touched by violence and struggles to find a way to make herself feel safe and learn how to protect herself. The thing I like the most about the way James characterizes Molly is that the self-defense and kickboxing classes she has been taking grew out of a need to know that she could take care of herself, and in the process she’s not only found the physical strength she needs to do that but she’s also discovered her own inner strength that she draws upon repeatedly throughout the story, from dealing with her bully cousins to handling her relationship with Deacon. The thing that Molly struggles with throughout the story–and is also the thing she must overcome in order to achieve growth as a character–is her unreasonable expectations for how the man she loves shares his secrets and his past. That is to say, she must learn that emotional intimacy is not easy nor does everyone share as easily or willingly as others. Maybe what it boils down to is a lesson in patience, and for Molly it’s a hard lesson to learn where Deacon is concerned.
I read a lot of romance novels, and this means that there are a lot of bad romance novels on my digital bookshelf. Gratefully, Caged doesn’t fall into that category. In case you missed it, I like my genre fiction (romance, paranormal, urban fantasy, suspense) to be edgy in some kind of way, I like my characters to be relatable, believable, and either likable or brilliant in the way they make me dislike them. I want the story to make me think about my own life in some way or another. I want it to be difficult for me to put the book down. I want the ending to be satisfying. Caged hits these marks for me. I could absolutely relate to the way that Deacon isn’t nearly as open or forthcoming with the details of his past as Molly wants him to be. I get the way he has trouble communicating and isn’t big on talking about stuff. The way that he struggles to share his thoughts and emotions and build an emotional bond with Molly is something that is familiar to me, and the way Molly’s inner strength and self-reliance has evolved since book one in this series is something else that resonates with me.
This is all to say I would recommend this book. I’m relatively new to Lorelei James’ work, but having read a couple of books by her now, I definitely won’t hesitate to read more. I like her style of writing, and I so much appreciate the way she tells the story in third-person from Molly’s and Deacon’s points-of-view and doesn’t stray to other points-of-view. This keeps the novel focused and the story moving. It also induces me to become invested in the main characters and remain invested in them as the story unfolds. The more book reviews I write, the more I realize how much the narrative style affects how much I enjoy the novel. If you’re looking for your next read, pick this one up or Bound if you want to start with the first book in the series.