The Chronicles of Elantra

Cast in Shadow (Chronicles of Elantra, #1) The Chronicles of Elantra is a fantasy series by Michelle Sagara, who also writes as Michelle West and Michelle Sagara West.  I’ve read the first four of the current eight, and expect I’ll go on to read the rest of them.  The series begins with Cast in Shadow; and as the books follow one directly upon the other you’ll want to read them in order.

The series takes place in the City of Elantra, capital city of the Empire, and concerns the doings of a young woman named Kaylin, a member of the Hawks.  The Law of the Empire is whatever the Emperor wants it to be, and it is enforced by three related organizations: the Swords, the Hawks, and the Wolves.  The Swords are the peacekeepers,  the city guard.  The Hawks do some patrolling as well, but they are effectively the detectives, the investigators.  The Wolves…well, perhaps the less said about the Wolves, the better.

Policing Elantra is a difficult job, not least because of the number of different races who live in the city.  The Dragons (an immortal race of great power) are not usually a problem; they are few in number, and as the Emperor is a Dragon they answer only to him.  The Barrani are another immortal race, nearly as powerful as the Dragons.  Kaylin has friends among them, to the extent Barrani have friends: they are your basic Faery folk, beautiful, powerful, and extremely perilous to mere mortals.  And then there are a variety of mortal races: humans, the lion-like Leontines, the winged Aerians, and so forth.

Kaylin herself is not native to the city of Elantra; or, at least, not to the part of the city that answers to the Empire.  In addition to the city proper there are the bad parts of town: the seven fiefs, in each of which the fief lord is the only law.  Kaylin is an orphan from the fief called Nightshade; she’s rude, never on time, and mostly unfit for the company of civilized people (although she’s improving).  The thing she wants most in the world is to be a Hawk, and keep people safe; and more than that, to keep children safe.  And she’s better suited to doing that than many; ever since the mysterious marks appeared on her arms and legs when she was a child, she’s been able to heal.  She’s kept it as secret as she can; but she still moonlights with the midwife’s guild and at the foundling home.

But, you see, there’s more to those marks than simply a childhood mystery; and in a magical city there’s more to the fiefs than simply slums where the Emperor’s men don’t go.  The world of Elantra has hidden depths, and I’ve got a suspicion that Kaylin is going to have to plumb most of them or die trying.

The books aren’t perfect; although Elantra is a port city, and there’s supposedly an empire, there’s no real sense of much of anything anywhere outside the city.  This might simply be due to Kaylin’s point of view; she’s smart, and very good at picking up anything she considers “practical”, but amazingly skilled at keeping out any information that she can’t see a use for.  On top of that, Kaylin is the sort of fantasy hero I find rather annoying: she has great magical powers that she doesn’t understand, and mostly don’t know how to use, but whenever she gets into a serious scrape (i.e., at the end of each book) she somehow knows exactly what to do.  (Andre Norton used to do the same thing.)  On the other hand…there seem to be reasons for it.  I’m getting the sense that Kaylin is in some way a pawn for some power we’ve not yet met, and that when the chips are down the proper actions are being funneled to her.  But the nature of that power is not clear to me (nor is it clear to the wise and powerful in Elantra, who are consequently keeping a remarkably close eye on her).

But all that’s by the way.  The books are entertaining, and there are some interesting moral issues explored, particularly regarding the protection of children; i.e., just when is it licit to take innocent life for the greater good?  And for once it’s nice not to have to offer cautions about sex and language.  Which is not to say that there’s no swearing in these books; there’s a lot of it.  But most of the time we just hear that Kaylin swore violently in Leontine or Aerian or Barrani or some such; she prides herself in knowing how to swear in all of the languages extant in Elantra, and seldom stoops to swearing in the human tongue.


So…good fun, if you like this sort of thing. 

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