I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Series: Chronicles of Elantra #11
Published by MIRA on November 24, 2015
Genres: Science Fiction & Fantasy, Urban Fantasy
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In the aftermath of a vicious battle between darkness and light, the city of Elantra has emerged victorious. But Shadows continue to haunt every corner of its streets…
Elantra stands strong, but countless numbers of Hawks, the city's staunchest protectors, were lost in the brutal attack. Humans, Barrani, Aerians, Leontines—none of the races emerged unscathed from the defense of the city. Homes were lost, families were scattered…and the outcast Barrani Lord Nightshade is missing from his castle in the fiefs.
Yet as the chaos surrounding the battle begins to wane, Private Kaylin Neya's duties must resume, despite her grief. Called in to investigate a triple murder in a quiet part of town, Kaylin and her companions are soon embroiled in a case that is anything but routine. Evidence of the deadly Shadows that still threaten the city leads to hints of ancient, forgotten magics…and everything can be traced directly to Ravellon, the heart of the Shadows and the darkness they contain.
But it is there that Lord Nightshade will be found—if he still survives.
When it comes to mysteries of the magical persuasion, there isn’t a series I’d recommend as highly as Michelle Sagara’s Chronicles of Elantra, whose 11th novel, Cast in Honor, was released this week by Harlequin’s fantasy imprint, MIRA Books. And it’s one of the reasons I’d say that Christmas came early for me this year.
A quick background on the world and this series. Elantra is the hoard-city of the Eternal Emperor, a dragon. It’s populated by immortals like the dragons and the elflike (in my head, anyway) Barrani as well as winged Aerians, fierce and furry Leontines, thought-sensing Tha’alani, and, of course, humans. The main character is Kaylin Neya, a human who works as a private for the Hawks at the Halls of Law, which are divided into three branches—Wolves are the intelligence and covert agency, Swords are the peacekeeping and defensive force, and the Hawks patrol the streets and investigate crime.
But there’s one thing that immediately sets Kaylin apart from other humans; her body is covered in sigils, power words that allow her to work magic and that mark her as Chosen. What being Chosen actually means is something she has yet to discover, but that she is vital to the survival of Elantra—and of the world—is clear from early on in the series.
Fast forward to Book 11, the latest installment in the Chronicles of Elantra. Kaylin, along with the rest of Elantra, is still recovering from the epic battle that the series had led up to in the past two or three novels, and she’s trying to adapt to the changes in her circumstances as a result of these upheavals. As is typically Kaylin, this involves a lot of complaining. In fact, I am completely in awe of how masterfully the author manages to make such a chronically whiny character so lovable and badass at the same time.
Although part of it, I imagine, is that her friends vent their annoyance with her quite successfully and you kind of see her point; there’s no rest for the weary. In this novel, Kaylin is assigned to investigate the mysterious—and magical—death of three humans in one of Elantra’s poorer districts, and in the process she discovers a creature of Shadow living in the heart of the city. But he is not the enemy she considers all Shadow to be, which is another mystery in itself. And he is taking care of a child whose history should feel familiar to Kaylin’s but makes no sense. On top of that, the fieflord Nightshade, who has a powerful connection to Kaylin thanks to the mark he placed on her cheek in the very first volume of the series, has magically gone missing, and the sentient element of water is misbehaving for reasons it can’t seem to communicate very well.
Once more, Kaylin is thrown a tangle of magical mysteries that quickly grows to catastrophic proportions—destruction-of-the-city proportions, to be precise, which seems milder than some of the end-of-the-world stuff she’s faced, but is no less vital to her survival and that of all the characters we get to know. And it’s up to Kaylin, with help from her friends, to find both cause and key to the whole shebang. Typical of books in this series, Cast in Honor involves clues upon clues heaped on questions upon questions, and it’s the heroine’s (and the reader’s) task to make sense of it, even as disaster looms and seriously icky stuff hits the fan.
This is not an easy, relaxing read. You’ll need to wrap your brain around not just the main problem faced by the characters but also mini problems that pop up, the scientific precision of this world’s magical theory and practice as well as etiquette and laws, and the unknown factor of the Chosen’s power. But while it does give your mind something of a workout, you’ll be left with a beefed up brain and a refreshing sense of satisfaction when you manage to figure everything out even as the characters do.
View Spoiler »Sagara is in her element when it comes to complexity, it seems, as even the supporting characters in the series have rich, textured histories whose layers have yet to be peeled away. For example, we’ve learned loads about the Barrani Hawk Teela’s childhood and adolescence in recent books, but the rest of her long history has yet to be revealed. The more we learn about Nightshade, the more mysterious he seems to become. Let’s not even talk about Severn and what happened to him in the long gap of time after he and Kaylen parted ways as adolescents in the fiefs. Sagara even introduces new characters I desperately want to see more of and learn all about.
This is how the Chronicles of Elantra differs from most series, where you normally get the measure of supporting characters then return to them in book after book with the comfort of old friends. These supporting characters are too complex to be so comfortable, though; it’s as if all your friends were contemporaries of Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty. The more you learn about each person, the more you realize how little you know them at all, and this most recent book continues to highlight that fact. And frustrate, as well, because I totally ship Sevlin, and it continues to not happen!
« Hide SpoilerThis is not a book to be read as a standalone novel, which is why I’ve written this review coupled with a series spotlight. I strongly recommend starting the series with book 1, Cast in Shadow, and not skipping any of the volumes between that one and this one because none of the volumes could be considered “fillers” or even “downtime.” Every volume is action-packed, intrigue-rich, and totally engrossing.
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