Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Cast in Chaos by Michelle Sagara

Kaylin Neya is a Hawk, one of the officers who police the city of Elantra, along with their counterparts, the Wolves. And Kaylin Neya isn't the most by the books of the Hawks. She has a temper, and there are things she simply will not do, like write reports, and she never seems to be able to show up on time. However, she is dedicated to her job, to make things better for the little people who are often affected by street crime, and she believes deeply in the law as a force to make things better on the streets of the city.

But in addition to these flaws and problems in herself, Kaylin possesses magic she doesn't want. Some of it she is willing to use, like the magic that enables her to help and heal women in labor. But magic sigils also mark her body, and Kaylin would rather be without the sigils, as they bring her the interest and attention of people whom she would rather go unnoticed by- like Lord Sanabalis the Dragon who is also a mage, and the Emperor himself- also a Dragon, and who will someday call Kaylin to his court, which she will not survive, due to her lack of etiquette and her almost refusal to learn it.

Kaylin, along with Lord Sanabalis, and her partner, Severn, formerly of the Wolves, have been deeply involved with several cases that have reshaped both the city of Elantra, and the parts of it outside the city walls, known as the fiefs. Kaylin herself was born in the fiefs, and fled from them because of her experiences there, and her experiences with their lack of any kind of lawful authority save the fief lord, who runs the fief with an iron fist. And in particular, she has become close with one of the fief lords, a Barrani known as Lord Nightshade. She doesn't particularly like being tied to him, but she has come to be able to live with it.

Now, Kaylin has noticed that magic seems to be increasing, affecting the whole city. The seers known as the Elani are usually charlatans. But now, somehow, their trickery seems to be truth. Elani seers are really seeing the future, and Elani who promise rinses to grow hair or creams to remove blemishes find that their promises are actually coming true. The Hawks shut down the street where the Elani usually work, with the Elani's complete approval, for they, too, are unsure of what is happening or why. But the magic builds up, turning the rain shower that splatters the streets to blood.

This angers the Emperor- magic in the city is disallowed for just this reason, but soon Kaylin is summoned to the building where the seers of the city live. One of the Seers, a boy named Everly who she has had contact with before, is painting a new canvas- a huge one that depicts the heart of the city, and which could foretell the destruction of the city. Kaylin helps him add some color to his canvas, and he doesn't object, but continues to work on it.

Seeking some context for what is happening, she visits the Elani known as Evanston, the Keeper of the Garden, but without Evanston there to guide her, she is taken to a strange analogue of the garden and not the real one, and when she tries to get out of it, is trapped in a strange gray space between worlds, where she is nearly devoured by a shadowy force, and only escapes with the help of Nightshade, whose true name she knows. But rescuing her isn't easy, even for him.

What exactly is going on? Apparently, new magic is flooding Elantra, and the last time this happened, thousands of years ago, humans arrived. But what is coming now seems far more threatening, and the magic that is coming threatens the Emperor and his hold over the city. That's dangerous- because the Emperor could simply scour the streets with Dragonfire, killing all within, and they must discover what the shadow is, and destroy it forever, because if the Emperor doesn't destroy the city, it could. But when Kaylin discovers the people coming to Elantra are fleeing the destruction of their plane of existence by the shadow, she is determined to stand up and help them find a new place to live, and damn the consequences. But can she find a way to do so that doesn't lead to the destruction of everything she is sworn to uphold?

I enjoy these books in a way that I have found few other books like them. Most fantasy books are about adventurers rather than the police or those sworn to uphold the laws of a city or country, and being that I like both fantasies and mysteries, well, this book is just about tailor made for me to like it and the series it is a part of. Other books I have liked in this vein include the Hawk and Fisher books by Simon Green, Nightwatch by Robin Wayne Bailey and Point of Hopes by Melissa Scott and Lisa Barnett. It seems to me that Fantasy Police procedural is something that could be done well and is missed by a lot of authors.

In any case, I always enjoy these books as well because they are also not your usual fantasy tropes. Okay, the Barrani are elves- I'll certainly admit that. But there are no dwarves, and the other races are more animal-hybrids (Aerians being Hawks, Leontines are lions and, well... Dragons are Dragons) and then there are the telepathic Tha'alani, and now we'll be seeing something else as well. Almost the best part is the fact that the non-human characters are convincingly non-Human, with other than human concerns and outlooks. It's not usual that elves, say, aren't extremely long-lived humans with funky ears, so this was a big plus to me.

I liked this book, and I like this series a lot. I know there are at least two books upcoming for it, and that one of them is going to focus on the Dragon court, and another will focus on the Aerians, and that these are almost certainly not the books that have already been written and yet to come. I enjoy these books and recommend them, though I do admit that Michelle Sagara's writing style can take a while to get used to, and that Kaylin has some Mary Sue qualities (makes friends everywhere and is highly regarded despite some offputting personal qualities), but I'd ask you to at least try her for yourself before passing judgement. Recommended.

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