Review: The Emperor’s Wolves by Michelle Sagara

Review: The Emperor’s Wolves by Michelle SagaraThe Emperor's Wolves (Wolves of Elantra #1) by Michelle Sagara
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy, urban fantasy
Series: Wolves of Elantra #1, Chronicles of Elantra #0.1
Pages: 512
Published by Mira on October 13, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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At the Emperor’s command
Multiple races carefully navigate the City of Elantra under the Dragon Emperor’s wing. His Imperial Wolves are executioners, the smallest group to serve in the Halls of Law. The populace calls them assassins.
Every wolf candidate must consent to a full examination by the Tha’alani, one of the most feared and distrusted races in Elantra for their ability to read minds. Most candidates don’t finish their job interviews.
Severn Handred, the newest potential recruit, is determined to face and pass this final test—even if by doing so he’s exposing secrets he has never shared.
When an interrogation uncovers the connections to a two-decade-old series of murders of the Tha’alani, the Wolves are commanded to hunt. Severn’s first job will be joining the chase. From the High Halls to the Tha’alani quarter, from the Oracles to the Emperor, secrets are uncovered, tensions are raised and justice just might be done…if Severn can survive.
The Wolves of Elantra
Book 1: The Emperor’s Wolves

My Review:

In the beginning, a 5-year-old girl named Elliane and a 10-year-old boy named Severn were two scared orphans doing the best they could to raise each other in a place so dangerous that no one expected them to live another year. And no one could afford to care because everyone was too busy attempting to make their own survival last more than another day, another hour, another minute.

That dangerous place was the fief of Nightshade, in the no-being’s-land that surrounds the city of Elantra. A place entirely designed and maintained as a buffer zone between Elantra and the Shadow at the heart of the world.

Their lives and their story should have been both brutal and short. It was often brutal, and always on the knife’s edge of destruction.

But it was not short.

Elliane’s story has been told in the Chronicles of Elantra, beginning with Cast in Moonlight. It is the story of a young woman with a terrible gift and an equally terrible secret, set in the high-fantasy world of Elantra, but often told with an urban fantasy sensibility. It is the story Elliane, now called Kaylin Nera, as she becomes first the mascot of and later a Private in the Imperial Hawks who serve as the equivalent of police in the empire. (Occasionally she rises to Corporal in the Hawks, but usually not for long.)

Elantra is an empire that is ruled by a Dragon and protected as his hoard. An empire that contains citizens of all races, Barrani (read as Elves), Leontine (yes, they’re lions), Aerians (feathered and flying) and more humans than all of the above.

And the Tha’alani. The telepathic Tha’alani who serve as the Emperor’s inquisitors when the need is great – or desperate.

But The Emperor’s Wolves is not Kaylin’s story, although it touches on her story and will undoubtedly connect to it eventually. Because Severn always connects to Kaylin, whether she wants that to happen or not. And initially in the story from her perspective, it’s very much not.

Instead, this is the story of that once upon a time 10-year-old boy, Severn Handred. Severn swore an oath to Elliane’s mother before she died, that he would protect Elliane no matter what. When Elliane couldn’t live with the price of that protection, they separated, walking through very dark places on entirely different paths.

Paths that have now converged. Elliane – as Kaylin – is now 15 and the mascot of the Imperial Hawks. To keep watch over her, Severn, now 20, becomes a member of the Imperial Wolves, the branch of the Halls of Law that investigates major crimes – and serves as the hand of the Emperor when those criminals are brought to summary justice in his name.

The story of The Emperor’s Wolves is Severn’s story. A story that fans of the series have been waiting and hoping for since we first met Kaylin in 2001.

A story that was definitely, utterly, fantastically worth the wait.

Escape Rating A+: I finished this book and now I have a terrible book hangover. But then I always do after a trip to Elantra. This world feels so complex and so complete than when I’m forced to leave it at the end of a story a part of me feels like it’s still back there and doesn’t want to come out.

As if part of my memory has been captured and held by the telepathic gestalt of the Tha’alani.

cast in shadow by michelle sagaraThe Emperor’s Wolves is a bit of a contradiction in terms. It is, without a doubt, the first book in the author’s new Wolves of Elantra series. It is also a prequel for nearly all of the Chronicles of Elantra series, taking place between the prequel novella, Cast in Moonlight, and the first novel in the series, Cast in Shadow.

But this book doesn’t feel like either a prequel or the opening of a new series. Instead, it feels like…enlightenment. Those of us who have followed the Chronicles have already met Severn Handred. We’ve witnessed most of his protective partnership with Kaylin Nera – a partnership that involves a great deal of love but no romance at all – through that series. We’ve also become immersed in Elantra and traveled much of the city and the places outside of the Emperor’s Hoard in Kaylin and Severn’s company.

But Severn, well, Severn is a man of much depth and very few words. He’s an enigma in pretty much everything except his tie to Kaylin – although that has plenty of enigma-ness in it, in ways that neither Severn nor Kaylin understand – at least not yet.

And the period of Severn’s life when he became one of the Imperial Wolves – the time that he spent without Kaylin – has been the biggest enigma of them all. He doesn’t talk about this time period, and we haven’t heard much about what he did – although there have been plenty of enigmatic hints. So this story, and whatever follows it, sheds light on an otherwise dark corner of the history of Elantra – or at least of the people we have come to know and love there. And provides a few tantalizing hints of events that we already know but are yet to come from Severn’s perspective at this point in his life.

Which means that, in spite of seeming like a beginning, The Emperor’s Wolves really isn’t. It’s a missing piece of the complex puzzle that is Elantra, and will be best appreciated – and enthusiastically so – by those who have already made the journey. If you’ve never been to Elantra and are thinking of going there, it’s a marvelous trip but this is not the place to begin.

If you’re already acquainted, however, one of the things that The Emperor’s Wolves does well is return to some of the elements that made this series so fascinating in the first place. As the longer story has continued, while Kaylin is still a member of the Imperial Hawks, her world has expanded beyond the streets of the city and she has become, sometimes willingly, sometimes unwittingly, sometimes dragged kicking and screaming, a power in this world and has moved among the high and mighty – although she would be the first to admit that she herself is neither.

But the series began as an epic-set urban fantasy, and The Emperor’s Wolves returns fantastically to that kind of story. Severn’s first case as one of the Wolves is to solve a crime. To open a case that everyone thought was closed and cold. As part of his investigation, he is forced to navigate the Barrani High Halls, the telepathic mindscape of the Tha’alani group consciousness, the mean streets of the city and the Emperor’s Palace.

Along the way he discovers friends, obfuscates foes and is confronted yet again with the choice that he’s been forced to make over and over since his childhood. That there are all too many times when the cost of justice is more unjust than any crime.

When I picked up The Emperor’s Wolves, I looked forward to learning more about Severn. But now that I’ve seen this world through his eyes, I’ve discovered that I want more. I need it. I hope to see more of Elantra from both Severn’s and Kaylin’s perspectives as their series continue.

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