Review: “Cast in Peril,” Michelle Sagara

Pros: Adds another layer of depth to the Barrani
Cons: Small things…
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

It has been a busy few weeks for Private Kaylin Neya. In between angling for a promotion, sharing her room with the last living female Dragon and dealing with more refugees than anyone knew what to do with, the unusual egg she’d been given began to hatch.

Kaylin is finally heading off to the West March as the result of an agreement with Lord Nightshade. Teela of course is coming with her, as is Severn. One unexpected companion is the Barrani Consort, who is still quite upset with Kaylin. Not only does Kaylin have to survive the often-deadly world of Barrani politics, but she has to figure out how and why people have gone missing in large numbers from the fiefs–and she has reason to believe a Barrani Lord was behind the disappearances. Add to that the contents of the egg, and things are about to get crazy.

Cast in Peril is book eight in the Chronicles of Elantra. Don’t even try to break into this series in the middle; there’s no real way for an ongoing story and world of this complexity to appear as standalone novels. That is a little awkward with a series this long, but I just don’t see a way to avoid it here. It also really helps if you’ve read the previous book recently.

Just a warning for anyone who hasn’t seen my reviews of previous installments: These are NOT action-oriented books. They focus on worldbuilding and oddly philosophical clashes. Much of the magic comes from pondering and learning to wield language, true names, ancient words. The conflict is very character-oriented. If you are looking for the kind of fantasy epic that has long sword battles, this is not it. I say this because this is entirely a reader-dependent taste issue, and it would be sad to have people dislike the books just because they didn’t get what they expected from them.

This isn’t the first book in the series to focus on the Barrani (elf-like immortals with a vicious taste for politics, back-stabbing, and anything that’ll stave off boredom); this one does go a layer or two deeper. We get to see that the Consort, who had behaved more warmly toward Kaylin than the other Barrani have, is in some ways more and in some ways even less like them than was obvious, and it really pokes at how immortals view mortals. Kaylin is also forced to look at some of Nightshade’s actions a little more baldly. I particularly like seeing how Barrani handle being in debt to someone. There are multiple ways to get rid of such a debt, obviously; you could pay it back… or you could just kill the person you’re in debt to.

Kaylin experiences some character growth in here. She’s learning when–occasionally–not to speak. Of course there are characters she encounters in this volume who can read her thoughts (much like Tara, the tower’s avatar, in Tiamaris) and thus respond to them as though she’d spoken them out loud–a situation that can be both amusing and frustrating to Kaylin and those around her. I also like that Teela described Kaylin’s younger self as being much like a puppy or kitten–it fits her personality very well.

There’s plenty of tension as Kaylin tries to negotiate Barrani politics, figure out what her newly-hatched friend is, wants, and can do, and save a whole bunch of people she knows almost nothing about. There’s enough going on that the book ends much earlier in Kaylin’s journey than I expected.

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