Review: “Cast in Silence,” Michelle Sagara

Pros: Fascinating story and excellent characters
Cons: Climax is not high-action; some bits of confusion
Rating: 4 out of 5

Cast in Silence (Chronicles of Elantra, Book 5) follows Cast in Shadow, Cast in Courtlight, Cast in Secret, and Cast in Fury. The series as a whole is fantastic and unusual, and well worth reading in its entirety.

From the back of the book:

Kaylin’s moved on with her life—and is keeping silent about the shameful things she’s done to stay alive. But when the city’s oracles warn of brewing unrest in the outer fiefdoms, a mysterious visitor from Kaylin’s past casts her under a cloud of suspicion. Thankfully, if she’s anything, she’s a survivor…

This time around Michelle Sagara is exploring Kaylin’s past and the things that brought her out of the fiefs. She’s also delving into the relationship between a fief and its lord, and how these things are necessary to protect the city from a deeper shadow. There’s more than enough going on in these two topics to keep things lively and interesting.

Sagara’s characters are my favorite part of the Chronicles of Elantra. Kaylin is a pain in the ass, but an enjoyable pain in the ass:

“She is not,” he said to Tiamaris, “well informed or well trained.”
“No. We have chosen to find it endearing.” He raised a hand before Kaylin could speak.
“Ah. That might present some problem.”
“It often does. But it occasionally presents solutions, as well, if unorthodox.”

Sagara nicely balances the need for Kaylin to grow and improve with the fact that such changes come slowly and reluctantly. There’s enough improvement that I don’t become frustrated with the character, but like anyone else she occasionally backslides or has trouble moving forward. I would like to see the author do more with Severn; he’s still a bit much of an enigma. I really love what she’s doing with the dragons, however. Each one has such a strong personality, and the dragon concept of a hoard comes with interesting connotations. Kaylin seems to be drawing ever closer to an inevitable meeting with the Emperor; it’ll be interesting to see how that goes in later books. I’d always wondered how Kaylin ended up becoming a Hawk at a particularly young age, and we finally get to explore that here. We also get just a peek at a younger Lord Nightshade, and I loved it.

The plot is a good one: the fief of Barren (it shares a boundary with Nightshade) is starting to be invaded by shadows and evil creatures from the sort-of fief that lies in the center of all the others. This means there isn’t a proper relationship between the fief lord and the “tower” that protects the domain. Kaylin, Severn, and Tiamaris have to fight the shadows in order to save lives, but they also must figure out what’s gone wrong with the tower and why it isn’t keeping the nightmares contained. The answer to the mystery is clever and challenging.

The climax of the book primarily involves internal rather than external challenges and revelations. Kaylin has to puzzle out what exactly is going on and how to fix it while her friends buy her some time. This does mean that the climax doesn’t involve a whole lot of flat-out action. The pacing remains a little slow. Whether this will appeal to you or frustrate you depends entirely on you, the reader, and the sort of books you enjoy. If you’re reading through the entire series and have gotten this far then I doubt you’ll mind it; all of the books have some aspect of internal struggle and revelation rather than external.

I do love the world-building in the Elantra books. The city rides a precarious balance between carefully arrayed forces, and Kaylin is smack dab in the middle of that mess. The details of the city present so much opportunity for action, reaction, revelation, and conflict. It’s easy to see how this story will require more books in order to tell its tale, and I very much look forward to reading those other books.

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