Sunday, August 17, 2008

Book review: the Chronicles of Elantra series

After a busy and tiring weekend, there's nothing I like better to do than sit on my front steps with a cold drink, basking in the setting sun and writing a book report for you all. No, really. I didn't at all want to crash in front of the t.v. and veg out to Olympic track and field. I wanted to do this. So pay attention, be interested and go borrow these books from your local library.

As I mentioned a couple of posts ago, I've been reading a bunch of fantasy subgenre books loaned to me by my friend Brownie. I'm currently in the middle of the third volume of Michelle Sagara's Chronicles of Elantra series: Cast in Shadow, Cast in Courtlight and Cast in Secret.

Set in whole new magic-riddled world, these three books (and there's at least two more to come) focus on young Kaylin Neya, a human corporal in the Hawk division of the Halls of Law (a police detective, if you will). Humans are not the only denizens of this world. There are also Leontines (humanoid lions), Aerians (winged humanoids), Tha'alani (mind-reading humanoids with creepy tentacles coming out of their foreheads), Barrani (sort of like Tolkien's Elves: immortal, inhumanly beautiful, fierce warriors) and Dragons (immortal and usually taking humanoid form, although able to shift back into their true dragon-shape if need be).

Kaylin, an orphan and former thief from the wrong side of the tracks, is woefully unsuited for her role as a officer of the law required to interact with all the different races. But in spite of her lack of education, ill manners, short temper and penchant for swearing, Kaylin does have something that keeps her involved with all the players in town: mystical words and symbols are magically tattooed all over her body and enable her to wield both a great healing power and a great destructive power. She hates the magic; she doesn't know why she was chosen to bear it; and unseen forces are maneuvering to get her on their side.

In the first book, Cast in Shadow, we are introduced to Kaylin and her world. Children are being mysteriously and ritually murdered and Kaylin's past is tied directly to the killings. Michelle Sagara does a great job of unwinding Kaylin's past and bringing all the various characters into the story, with a nice dry sense of humor too.

Cast in Courtlight picks up almost immediately after the end of the first book. Kaylin's recent success has brought her to the notice of the Barrani High Court and she is called there to heal the High Lord's heir. She is particularly out of her element at the High Court and dangers unfold all around her. I liked Courtlight the least of the three books: it was less funny than the other two and got bogged down in too much metaphysics.

I'm currently about halfway through Cast in Secret, which has returned to form as a police procedural rife with sarcastic humor. Sent to investigate the theft of a magical reliquary, Kaylin soon discovers missing children and the possible end of all things. I can't tell you how it ends because I don't know yet - but it's a page-turner!

These books aren't fabulous literature (and could use some more stringent editing, frankly: Sagara uses more commas than I do!), but they're intelligent, engrossing fantasy and worth a read if you like that sort of thing. Thanks, Brownie!

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