Review: “Cast in Flame,” Michelle Sagara

Pros: Wonderful climactic battle; fascinating new characters
Cons: Sometimes confused as to who is saying what; Severn is still under-utilized
Rating: 4 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. Now she’s returned from her trip to the West March, but she’s brought back a couple of unusual Barrani–it’s easy at first to attribute their behavior to their ‘youth’, but it’s more than that. They’re attracting–in some cases awakening–dangerous powers and entities without even realizing it. One of those powers has both the potential and the will to destroy the city.

 

Michelle Sagara’s Cast in Flame is volume 10 of the Chronicles of Elantra. I have a number of reasons for objecting to series books that can’t stand alone (even if it’s just one out of every two or three books). About half of those objections would be satisfied by noting distinctively on the cover and in online listings that this is “The Chronicles of Elantra, Book 10” so that people won’t accidentally start in the middle of the series. Don’t try to start this series anywhere but at book one (Cast in Shadow). As it is I sometimes get a little lost if I haven’t read the previous book recently enough. This is a huge world with a ton of detail to it and an ever-expanding cast of characters. The world-building is superb but intricate.

Kaylin still has the traits that make her who she is (she’s stubborn, blunt to a fault, and intensely curious), but some of the sharpest edges have been sanded down. It’s a matter of personal taste as to whether you think she isn’t growing as a character quickly enough (it works for me, but I know that some folks strenuously disagree). The difference from book to book is often small but it adds up. I do like the notion, expressed in this volume, that the reason immortals find Kaylin interesting and worth having around is because she is so prone to getting into trouble that she alleviates their boredom!

The two extra Barrani Kaylin brought back with her kick off quite the plot. Emotionally they’re still young adults, but they’ve grown into something more than just Barrani. One of them is Nightshade’s brother, and when he visits Nightshade he awakens the Tower in his brother’s fief. Unlike the Tower of Tiamaris, this one is darker. It also contains two extremely dangerous creatures which are also waking. As usual, Kaylin has her own unusual batch of friends, allies, and people who just don’t want to see the city destroyed no matter whose side they are or aren’t on. In the middle of this she’s still trying to find a new home for herself and Bellusdeo, the only living female dragon. There were humor, pathos, nicely varied pacing, and sufficient danger to absorb me.

I found the climax of Cast in Flame engrossing–while it does involve name magic and highly abstracted powers, it includes a nice dose of physical combat. Sagara also did a good job of making the magic a little less abstract and working it into the action more smoothly than in some of the series books.

While I love most of the characters–they often have larger-than-life personalities that are fun to watch–I’m still frustrated with how Severn is depicted. He blends into the background entirely too well, only stepping forward to protect Kaylin from time to time. He’s incredibly passive and primarily reacts rather than acting. It’s frustrating, because he has the potential to be a very interesting character.

As a small note, I still tend to have trouble figuring out who’s saying what in conversations.

This is definitely one of my favorites of the series, and I look forward to reading more!

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