Cast in Ruin

Cast in Ruin is the 7th book in Michelle Sagara’s Chronicles of Elantra. Saying that I enjoyed this series doesn’t even come close. I became so enthralled with Kaylin and her crew that I put the whole Elantra series on my “Best of 2011” list. Now I get to tell you why.

It’s a little hard to categorize this series. It reads like an urban fantasy. Complete with snark. There’s a very high snark quotient, and it’s definitely of the “snicker, snicker, snort” persuasion. It’s also very dry humor, and very situational. What made me chuckle was based on the personalities, rather than because something was funny per se. And it made things damn hard to explain to my husband, who wanted to know what my chortles were all about.

Like so much of urban fantasy, a lot of the humor is gallows humor. The city of Elantra has as much crime as any big city, magical or otherwise. In addition, there’s the more unusual and magical sort of crime. Investigating the seamier side of human (and other-human) nature seems to require a taste for gallows humor in whoever (or whatever) does that investigating. Whether that investigator has skin, fangs, fur, feathers, or scales.

But if the Chronicles of Elantra are urban fantasy, complete with detectives, they are not just urban fantasy. The city of Elantra does not appear to be on Earth, or in any history that includes our Earth, at least not so far. Elantra, in this reviewer’s mind, is a high-fantasy world. The human characters that we identify with at first, Kaylin and later Severn, are part of a race that is not native to Elantra. The native races are the immortals, the Dragons and the Barrani. Then there are the mortal native races, the Leontines and the Aerians.  Plus another mortal race who somehow came later to Elantra, the Tha’alani.

And into this polyglot steps Kaylin Nera. Kaylin is a child of the fiefs. In other words, she grew up outside the edge of the city, outside of the laws of the Dragon Emperor, and was poorer than poor. But for no reason that anyone has ever been able to determine, magic interfered with her life. Runes of ancient script became written on her skin just before her 13th birthday. Because of those runes, other girls died in an attempt to awaken some power that Kaylin did not and still does not want.

But Kaylin has magic whether she wants it or not. And because she does, she has become involved with people that she never would have imagined when she was begging on the streets in the fief of Nightshade.

By the time of Cast in Ruin, Kaylin is in her 20s. She has come a long way from the 13 year old waif who first came to the Halls of Law and attempted to assassinate the Hawklord. She should have been executed for her crime. Instead, the Hawks adopted her as a mascot. And when she was old enough, she became one of them. A ground Hawk, an investigator of crimes against the Dragon Emperor’s laws.

Seven identical women have been found dead in Tiamaris’ fief. But in the fiefs, the Dragon Emperor’s laws don’t apply, even if Tiamaris was a member of the Emperor’s court until just a few short days ago. But Tiamaris has also allowed the new race of giants who had come through the mysterious “ways” to settle in his fief. And the giants have angered the “Shadows” at the fief borders, the “Shadows” that threatens the stability of all the magic that underpins Elantra. And those seven identical dead women, well, number eight shows up with a message, then dies. But when number nine comes to call, let’s just say that everyone’s assumptions about everything are about to come unglued. Along with a few dragons.

Escape Rating A+: This was fantastic, stupendous, wonderful. I wish I could take Kaylin out for drinks because I love her brand of snark. But she’s also one of the most complicated characters I’ve met in a long time. She grows and changes and knows she’s growing up. She has so much stuff in her head and she doesn’t believe in herself but she keeps trying anyway. And she has so much to forgive herself for, but not as much as she thinks she does. Give yourself a really, really gigantic treat. Take the time to start with Cast in Moonlight (in Hunter’s Moon) the novella that starts it all, then dive straight into to Cast in Shadow and don’t look back.