Iron Cage

by Andre Norton
Reviewed date: 2007 Mar 22
Rating: 2
288 pages
cover art

When a slave ship puts in at an unknown frontier planet, Rutee escapes into the jungle with her son Jony. They meet the People, a primitive but intelligent race of animals, who adopt them into their tribe. Jony and his twin siblings, Maba and Geogee, grow up with the People as their only family.

Then one day, a space ship lands. It is peopled by humans. The humans consider the People animals, and are intent upon colonizing the planet. Jony finds himself at odds with the humans--who wish to harm the People--and with the People--who now mistrust Jony because he is human.

That's an intriguing story in itself, but Andre Norton clutters it up with a subplot involving Forerunner relics. The Forerunners are never mentioned in Iron Cage, but they are a long-dead civilization that has left artifacts of great power. These relics are greatly sought after. Jony stumbles upon a Forerunner ruin without knowing what it is. When the humans arrive, they also discover the ruin. Now the stakes are even larger: if these heartless humans find Forerunner artifacts, it will make them even more powerful. Jony needs to regain the trust of the People, and convince them to travel to the ruins--which are taboo--and set a trap for the humans.

I wanted to like Iron Cage, but it's just too muddled to be a good book. Norton explains nothing about the Forerunners, or the ruins, or the relics. It isn't even clear from the text of the book that the ruins are anything special, or why the humans would be interested in them. That knowledge must be gleaned from Norton's other books, which are also set in the Forerunner universe.

Norton also delivers a heavy-handed moral lesson about animal rights by including an unrelated short story about a man who dumps unwanted kittens on the side of the highway. The animal rights theme runs through the whole novel, the heavy-handedness of Norton's preaching cheapens its. The message would have been stronger without the kitten story.

Iron Cage rates only a two out of five.

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