THE CHRONICLES OF ELANTRA by Michelle Sagara
The Chronicles of Elantra is an interesting series. I’m not sure what sub-genre to slot it into. If it were a mystery series, it would be a police procedural. It takes place in an urban setting in another world, but without the usual “urban fantasy” characters — no vampires or werewolves, etc. The dialogue is reminiscent of that found in most urban fantasy novels. The chronicles are the stories of Kaylin Neya, a member of the detective division of the city’s policing agency.
The world of Elantra has six different races/species of peoples all living in one large city surrounded by fiefs — slums ruled by fieflords outside the influence of the police and mostly ignored/tolerated by the Emperor. There is more to the world, an ocean and plains at least, but these are very seldom referenced and don’t seem to have any influence on the city. The people of Elantra, for the most part, live peaceably together.
Kaylin was orphaned young in the fiefs. She survived for the next few years with the help of Severn, a boy a few years her senior, and somehow they both managed to leave the fiefs and find work in the Halls of Law. When the series begins, she is about 20. There is a lot to like about Kaylin. She is a pushover for children and uses her healing powers to assist the city’s midwives. She cares passionately about the law and her job. That said, Kaylin can also be annoying. She is a slob, she is perpetually late for everything, and she has no interest in learning anything except what she needs to do her job. And for some reason, everyone just shrugs and lets it go. “That’s just Kaylin.”
Reading the first book, Cast in Shadow, I wasn’t sure if I would continue with this series. However, the secondary characters grabbed me and kept me reading. I like Severn. The Barrani are amusing and the Tha’alani intrigued me. I loved Tiamaris, Kaylin and Severn’s dragon partner in the first book. And I enjoy Lord Sanabalis — Kaylin’s longsuffering magic teacher — also a dragon. I have a thing for dragons and I love Michelle Sagara’s use of them in this series. They get some of the best lines in the books.
My pet peeve with The Chronicles of Elantra is the Sagara’s need to tell us every time Kaylin swears — and she swears a lot — which of 3 or 4 languages she is swearing in. There are a couple of languages she hasn’t bothered to learn since they don’t have any good swear words for her use. We never see any of the actual swearing, just which language she has chosen to utilize. We also are told which language everyone is speaking in any given conversation. Part of this is necessary since insulting someone in High Barrani seems to be an art form, but it became intrusive to the point that I felt like swearing at Sagara’s editor after a while myself. I just couldn’t decide which language to use.
In Cast in Shadow, Kaylin is forced to revisit a haunting episode from her past. Someone is killing children. The murders exactly emulate a series of killings that happened in the fief where she lived when she was thirteen. Kaylin is forced to confront her past while doing everything in her power to stop the killings, even if that includes the use of her forbidden magic. She is paired up with Severn, the boy from her past whom she hasn’t seen since the time of the first murders. Together with a dragon, they go hunting a murderer. Along the way she is “marked” by Lord Nightshade, an outcaste Barrani fief lord, as belonging to him. Kaylin’s involvement in this case is due to markings that appeared magically on her body during the first set of murders, markings that are once again appearing on the bodies of the dead. Overall, Cast in Shadow is a good first book. Sagara tells a complete story while setting the stage for future books by introducing the characters and the various races of Elantra.
In Cast in Courtlight, Kaylin finds herself in the Barrani High Court. The Barrani are the Elantran equivalent of elves, and their court is a place of excruciatingly correct manners and behavior. Kaylin is not known for her tact, manners or ability to behave well in public. But Kaylin is a healer, the only healer that is not a part of the Dragon Court. She is called upon to use her healing magic on behalf of the High Lord’s heir. There is more to the story than is evident at first, and Kaylin finds herself healing more than just the heir to the throne. Once again she is faced with darkness and danger, and once again she must muddle her way through with her half-learned magic abilities. Again, this is a complete story. I appreciate not having cliff-hangers in series books. I enjoyed the court intrigue and the resolution was well-done.
In Cast in Secret, Kaylin is asked to find an item stolen from a merchant. The item in question is ancient and holds great powers of darkness, and there is at least one missing child involved. In this book, Kaylin has to interact with the Tha’alani, a race of telepaths. The Tha’alani are required as part of their citizenship in the city to provide mind-readers to the Emperor and are viewed with fear by many. Kaylin had a bad experience with one in her youth before the stories began, though she does change her view on them somewhat in Cast in Shadow. Here, the reader gets to see deeper into their part of Elantra. Kaylin has to use all her powers and find some new ones this time in an attempt to save the city from destruction. This book seemed somewhat slower paced, and I was impatient at times for things to move faster.
Cast in Fury begins when Kaylin and her partner are assigned to assist the Imperial Playwright. He has been tasked with the writing of a play to sway public opinion of the Tha’alani and their part in the near-disaster in Cast in Secret. But Cast in Fury is actually about the Leontines, a race of lion-people. The author seems to be giving us glimpses into each of the races of Elantra. Kaylin’s sergeant, Marcus, has been relieved of his duties and is awaiting trial for murder in the Caste Court of the Leontines. Marcus is the only Leontine who serves the emperor in the Halls of Law. Kaylin is like an adopted daughter to Marcus, but is told by everyone in authority to stay out of it because it is a caste/clan matter. Why anyone thinks she would listen is beyond me. Kaylin immediately starts interfering while still attempting to fulfill her obligations to the job she was assigned to do. While reading this book I had a sense of “finally, this is the one I’ve been waiting for.” Kaylin is starting to grow up. Plus, Sagara has toned down many of the stylistic annoyances that bothered me in the first three books.
I like the world that Michelle Sagara has created. I like that there is no war among the races; they all manage to get along. The races are not original — I’ve seen them all done before — but they are all interesting and well-written. Sagara doesn’t spend much time in world building. The reader doesn’t get a very good sense of the rest of the world, but it isn’t necessary. The Chronicles of Elantra is about the characters and their stories. So far, I’ve enjoyed all of the Elantra books and look forward to more. Kaylin annoys me, and there were times I considered not starting the second book. But the other characters and the plots were good enough to keep me reading, and I’m glad I did continue. The Chronicles of Elantra are on my keeper shelf for future re-reading.