Cast in Shadow by Michelle Sagara
Publication Year: 2005
Series: Chronicles of Elantra #1
Format: Audio (from Audible.com)
Narrator: Christine Hvam
WHY?: I accidentally bought book 8 (Cast in Peril) in this series when it was on sale and I am a stickler about reading things in order so back to book one I go.
SYNOPSIS: Kaylin is an orphan who grew up on the mean streets of Elantra until a horrible event caused her to flee and be taken in by the Hawks. The Hawks, are actually that - humanoid hawks, and they keep the peace in Elantra. They train Kaylin to serve on the force and are also protecting her from a terrible truth about herself. When serial murders, very similar to those which drove her from her life on the streets in the first place, begin to happen again, Kaylin is determined to stop them this time. The only problem is she will have to accept a friend from her past and a dragon as her unwelcome partners. Through the investigation, she will begin to find out who she really is, DUN dun DUN!
As you can see by my synopsis devolving into smart assery there at the end, the overall arc of this book and the character of Kaylin are not terribly original. In fact, as I was writing the synopsis I realized that Skye from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. which I have been watching lately is the exact same archetype. Thankfully the book distracts from the predictable character arc by creating a rather unique world and mythology. Unfortunately, as I mentioned in my review of Into the Wilderness this is one of the books that I really struggled with recently. It had a ton of potential and many things I liked but it had an equal number of issues that made me a little crazy.
To start with, it took me a while to get into the book. Sagara goes for the "throw-the-reader-in-the-middle-of-things-with-no-explanation" technique and it takes a LONG time to pay off. I can say with confidence that if I hadn't paid for the book or been listening to it, I would have DNFed it. There are so many names and places and gibberish words and I had no idea what any of it meant or how it fit into a whole. It does come together to reveal a unique and interesting setting and I did eventually get sucked into the story. However, patience was definitely a virtue that was required.
Once I had muddled my way through and things finally started to click, it became clear that this is a mystery and has the flavor of an Urban Fantasy though set in a completely different universe than our own. I'm not sure I could even tell you what or who in the end was committing the murders but the heroine was in the center of it and the show down at the end was exciting. Getting more back story on Kaylin and her childhood companion Severn, helped me be more engaged, and the upshot of that backstory wasn't what I expected. Nice to find a book that keeps you guessing! Problem is? It made me hate Kaylin just a little more.
Because that was the second real issue I had with the book - Kaylin. She pushed so many of my rage-inducing buttons. She's a special snowflake. She's a rebel without a cause, bucking society norms just 'cuz. She's always late. She's judgmental, easy to anger, abrasive and sees the world in black and white. And everybody, and I mean EVERYBODY adores her. They all would give their lives to protect her. And it's that which bugs. Not the flaws, but that nobody seems to notice or care about them. I like that she's flawed, even if some of those flaws are traits that really bug me personally in a character, but flawed people, people with strong personalities - are not universally loved people. So this smacks of an author who is blind to her character's reality who developed her character and how people react to her in isolation. Yes I know, "BUT she cares for the orphans, Stephanie." Well good for her, I'm glad that under her layers of false bravado and quick temper she has a heart, but even folks with good intentions are not universally loved if their outward personality is repellent or particularly strong. I'd like to know which world I could go to and be completely disrespectful to all and sundry and everybody just think me a peach. The trauma she has as a child should have made it impossible for her to make friends or trust anyone, or at least that would have been more interesting, but she's got plenty of friends and a completely normal social life. I think I was supposed to sympathise with her but why? Her life is pretty great especially considering where she started. So yeah. I would have found her much more interesting if she had been written with a tad more attention to reality.
The thing is that even though I've spent much of this review pointing out what was the wrong with the book, I feel drawn to picking up the next book in the series. The world of the story was super interesting and I liked the element of mystery and police drama in a fantastical setting. I liked a number of the secondary characters and would like to find out more about the other races that make up society. Maybe Kaylin gets better as the series goes along? We'll see. I'm on the fence.
FINAL VERDICT: It took a while to get into and the protagonist pushed all my buttons but I am intrigued enough by the story structure and world created that I may continue on with the series. 3 out of 5 stars.
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