Review: “Cast in Sorrow,” Michelle Sagara

Pros: Fantastic world-building; definitely different
Cons: Plenty of confusion
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Kaylin Neya, a private in the law-enforcing Hawks, is marked with mysterious runes on her skin that give her strange abilities. These–and her stubbornness, curiosity, and lack of tact–get her into all sorts of troubles. This time she’s gone to the West March, where she’s expected to take part in the telling of a story that has the power to change those who listen to it.

 

Michelle Sagara’s Cast in Sorrow (Chronicles of Elantra) is a fascinating book. I believe it’s volume 9 of the series. The complexity of the world-building and plots make it necessary to start from the beginning of the series–don’t try to jump in at the middle. Given that plenty of readers aren’t going to go all the way back to books one through eight, that’s a bit unfortunate; it makes it harder to draw in new readers. In this particular volume I’d actually recommend re-reading the previous book, Cast in Peril, right before you read Cast in Sorrow. There are a lot of complex things going on, many of which carry over from the previous book. If you’re having even a little trouble remembering who’s who among the Barrani, this volume will probably drive you a little nuts. The style of Barrani names is distinctive enough that I kept confusing a couple of the characters with each other. (The very similar feel of the names was enough to make them difficult to sort out.) It didn’t help that there are some fairly long conversations with more than two characters in the mix, making it occasionally tough to separate out who is saying what.

The Chronicles of Elantra exhibit fascinating world-building; they’re quite unlike other books I’ve read. The races are very different, definitely not the standard elves, orcs, and dwarfs. Cast in Sorrow explores yet more of Barrani culture; given the start of the series, where it seemed like different races each got their own volume, it’s odd that the Barrani have occupied several in a row. On the other hand the Barrani probably deserve the extra space. I’m still seeing new aspects to previous depictions of them, which is pretty impressive.

While there are some physical battles in here, the true climaxes come from realization, Kaylin’s odd powers and her blunt questions. The Barrani are pretty much her opposites in nature, which results in fascinating clashes. Much like the other volumes, however, you’ll have to be fond of metaphysical explorations of magic based in words and language in order to enjoy it. It’s very much a personal taste thing. Normally I like more climactic action in my books, but the change of pace here makes a great break from the usual. I do think that Kaylin is still learning and growing, but these are small changes from book to book, so if Kaylin’s brash personality in earlier books has annoyed you, Cast in Sorrow won’t improve matters! I find her to be just on the good side of likable, and just barely on the right side of showing personal growth.

It’s pretty simple–if you’ve enjoyed the series so far then you’ll like the latest. If you read book one and the style annoyed you, then don’t expect the rest of the series to change that.

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