Book Review: Cast in Flame by Michelle Sagara

Posted August 13, 2014 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews / 0 Comments

Book Review: Cast in Flame by Michelle SagaraCast in Flame by Michelle Sagara
Genres: Fantasy, YA
Published by Harlequin, MIRA on August 1, 2014
Pages: 496
Format: ARC
Source: Purchased


Any day that starts with dragon arguments is going to be bad

Kaylin returned from the West March in one piece. Now that piece is fraying. She's not at home in the Imperial Palace—and she never intends to be. All she wants is normal garden-variety criminals and a place of her own. Of course, normal in her new life involves a dragon as a roommate, but she can handle that.

She can't as easily handle the new residents to the city she polices, because one of them is Nightshade's younger brother. On a night when she should be talking to landlords in perfectly normal buildings, she's called to the fief—by Teela. A small family disagreement has become a large, complicated problem: Castle Nightshade's latent magic is waking.

And it's not the only thing.

Also by this author: Cast in Sorrow, Cast in Honor, Cast in Flight, Cast in Wisdom, Cast in Deception, Cast in Oblivion, The Emperor's Wolves, Sword and Shadow

Tenth in the Chronicles of Elantra fantasy series for Young Adults and revolving around Kaylin, a young private in the Hawks.

My Take
LOL, I’m not sure which task is fraught with more peril: Kaylin trying to find a new place to live that’s not the palace but still receives imperial approval or the ancestor who wants to take over the Barrani.

I want to call this a bridge story in this fantabulous world Sagara has created, but it’s really more of an introduction to the next string of conflicts that Kaylin and her friends will have to face. The most exciting (and one of the most awaited) issues: Kaylin finally meets the Emperor. Yeppers. And she yells at him! Only Kaylin, lol.

Why am I calling it a bridge? For all the tremendous issues in the series, and that are introduced in Cast in Flame, it’s the minor ones that get resolved. Okay, one isn’t so very minor, but what causes it is only partially resolved. There are still questions, loose threads that hang at the end.

It’s right after Kaylin and the Barrani have gotten back from the West March, and we learn that the two lost ones who return with Kaylin and the Barrani are dangerous, that they are not what they were. They’ve changed, only no one, and I mean no one, least of all themselves, understand how they’re different. Mandoran and Annarion are children in so many ways. Rip van Winkles of their species, they have suddenly come awake in a world too changed from what they left centuries before. Being proud and arrogant, they refuse to believe that they must adapt, that they themselves have changed from what they were. The combination is deadly, rude, and confusing about how they’re dangerous. There’s an interesting scene in which Tara speaks to Hope, about his understanding of the spaces he occupies and how it differs from Mandoran and Annarion’s that helps a bit.

And that’s really all we learn. Well other than that they’re calling to life dangerous beings who will threaten everything that gives the Barrani life.

The other conflict is Kaylin’s unhappiness at living in the palace combined with Bellusdeo’s anger over the Emperor’s restrictions and fears for her. Seems Bellusdeo really missed Kaylin while she was off in the West March (Cast in Peril, 8, and Cast in Sorrow, 9). Kaylin is Bellusdeo’s only real friend, and it’s Kaylin’s need for a home that sets the stage for the definition of home. The Barrani don’t understand Kaylin’s belief that home is safety. For them, there is never safety, especially at home. It takes Kaylin time to explain it, and it makes so much sense. While we do see home as safe, it’s deeper in the bone for us as well. It’s simply not something we think about until Kaylin brings it up.

This sums up Bellusdeo’s feelings:

“‘She will be as safe there as she would be—’

‘In a grave.'”

We learn a bit more about the fief castles and towers, what they perceive as threats, why they were built. We even meet one of the statues! Very unexpected. We also learn a teeny tiny touch more about why Nightshade might be outcaste. It’s driving me mad to learn the truth behind that! And another truth about the Consort comes out, one that creates a problem, for now Ynpharion knows a truth that may not be shared. Poor Lord Ynpharionn. He’s been bitching and moaning for books about the humiliation of Kaylin knowing his True Name, now he’s learning to be grateful. Okay, this makes sense when Mandoran tells Kaylin that as the Chosen it is her task to “finish things. To resolve stories that have been left hanging…” Helen’s explanation of her inability is also well done. We know the basic idea of how our bodies work, but we haven’t a clue about the intricacies of it. And I want to know more about what Helen lost!!

It’s Annarion’s visit with Nightshade that sets events in play where Teela learns of the door guards that Kaylin thinks are vampires. Seems they’re not. Not vampires anyway. They’re something much worse. A being that strikes fear in a Barrani heart.

The underlying, I guess you could call it the control, of the series is words. True names and words that contain concepts, the runes, all of which can force people or metaphysical beings to perform as the speaker desires. The rune tattoos that Kaylin carries are one example of it. The true names of the Barrani are another.

“Tact is the thing you use when people can actually hear you.”

Now for the niggles. Oh, man, Sagara has created such a complex world, don’t get me wrong, I find it absolutely fascinating, but there are aspects of it that she does not explain well. It doesn’t matter how often I read and re-read, I still don’t get it. I wish Sagara had expanded on Mandoran’s desire to give Kaylin his True Name. It’s a big deal, and totally out of line for Mandoran to even think this. Sagara drove me a bit nuts with all the time she spent on Kaylin moaning away about the runes. I mean, it’s not like Kaylin hasn’t been under this sort of stress in the past nine books. She should have some ideas, although I did like her analysis of the stroke weight and heaviness or lightness of the lines. Of course, part of the problem was my own stress. We’re under siege…get on with it! And I did love how Kaylin’s songs morphed into tunes that were more from her own experience, more loving.

There’s an interesting debate over what has value as a sacrifice. And it’s not always the death of someone that has the greatest value.

Oh, wow, Kaylin scolds the Emperor and makes an excellent argument about respect. You may be terrified for someone, you may want them safe, but that’s about you. It’s not about what that someone needs. And, in many respects, Sagara’s story is an exploration of philosophies, of choices, of how those choices define a person.

The Story
The palace rings with the roaring of the arguments between Bellusdeo and the Emperor. He wants her safe; she wants her freedom, her self-respect. Kaylin. Well, Kaylin wants her own place again. She hates having to live in the palace where she was treated as less than nothing. Now she’s the only female Dragon’s roommate.

A more public problem are Mandoran and Annarion, both of whom the Water Element insists are wrong, as they attract the wrong kind of attention, waking dangerous ancestors.

The Characters
Private Lord Kaylin Neya is a lowly human, or should I say was? After events in Cast in Shadow, 1, Kaylin became the Chosen. The Avatar calls her Bearer of Burdens. A figure viewed with awe by the races who despise those beneath them, including the humans. None understand what she is or what she can do, only that she is to be listened to. And Kaylin is a policewoman, as we would know the term. She is a member of the Hawks. And, yeah, she’s still living in the palace, to her regret. Hope is the little dragon who has become Kaylin’s familiar since Cast in Peril.

Corporal Lord Severn Handred grew up with Kaylin in the fiefs until the incident. He went into the Wolves and was then seconded to the Hawks to partner up with Kaylin.

The Dragons
Lord Bellusdeo is the Dragon Kaylin saved in Cast in Ruin, 7. And she is furious with how she and Kaylin are treated. The Arkon (Bellusdeo knew him as Lannagaros) is the oldest member of the Dragon Court with the right to criticize the Emperor, and he lives in the Imperial Library. He also has a soft spot for Kaylin and Bellusdeo. Lord Diarmat is the Emperor’s right hand, and the one designated to teach Kaylin court etiquette. The Emperor has not yet met Kaylin; the others fear Kaylin will die if she does. Lord Dariandaros does come to Kaylin’s home. Lord Sanabalis is the Dragon tasked with teaching Kaylin magic. Lord Emmerian will be tasked with approving any potential apartment.

The Hawks
The Hawks are the investigating side of the police force of Elantra. Lord Grammayre is the Hawklord. Sergeant Marcus Kassan, a Leontine, is in charge of the actual men. Caitlin is his unofficial second-in-command and has a list of possible apartments. Clint and Tanner are Aerians. Teela, a.k.a., Lord An’Tella, and Tain are Barrani who choose to work for the Hawks. And they all have a soft spot for Kaylin; Teela sees Kaylin as kyuthe, kin. Then there are those like Sergeant Mallory.

Jared performs the same tasks for the Swords (think of them as peacekeepers) as Caitlin does for the Hawks.

The Barrani
Mandoran of the House of Casarre is the cheeky lost one from the West March (he’s living with Tain for now) while Annarion, Nightshade’s angry brother, is the more sober one. Terrano was one of the twelve lost ones; he chose to explore other planes. Sedarias is another.

Lirienne, the Lord of the West March, is Lord of the High Halls and all the Barrani. His sister, the Consort, a.k.a., the Lady, is the Mother of the Barrani. Lord Ynpharion is furious and terrified that Kaylin knows his True name, even if it did bring him back from the Shadows, as it lowers him in the eyes of his people. But her knowing may be their salvation. Lord Evarrim, Teela’s cousin, uses a lot of Arcane magic, and he despises Kaylin.

Wilson is brother to Hallionne Bertolle, a Barrani version of an inn that is sentient, alive, and able to read minds with a duty to recreate the best comforts of a guest’s home. They are not normally awake. Hallionne Alsanis was the lost ones‘ “jailer”.

Tiamaris Fief
Lord Tiamaris is the Dragon ruler of this fief that was once known as the Barren. Tara is the Tower and is much more “human” than the others Kaylin has met. She is grateful for Kaylin and goes out of her way to make her welcome. Morse functions as Tiamaris and Tara’s butler.

Maggaron is Norannir, one of those lost whom Kaylin saved in Cast in Chaos, 6. He’s also Bellusdeo’s Ascendant, a bodyguard. The Norannir were once Bellusdeo’s subjects; now they are building homes on the border in Tiamaris fief.

Nightshade Fief
Lord Nightshade, a.k.a., Lord Calarnenne, is fieflord of the Nightshade fief and an outcaste Barrani. He has put his mark on Kaylin and offended all Barrani by doing it.

Elani Street
This is one of the beats that the Hawks patrol. Margot is a con woman who is at the top of Kaylin’s naughty list. Evanton is the Keeper, tends the Garden, and controls the elements. Grethan, a disabled Tha-alani, is Evanton’s apprentice.

Marten Anders is a potential landlord.

The house on Ashwood
Helen is like Tara, the avatar of the house, the tower. Yet she was not created as the fief castles were. Long ago, she amputated parts of herself to prevent being used in ways she did not desire. Hasielle was the human cleaning lady who made Helen a home.

Elantra is the city. The Ancients created the races, the fiefs, and the always-changing, sentient towers and castles. Arcanists are mages who work independently of the Dragon Emperor. Ferals are massive wolf-like shapes that come out of the Shadows and kill.

The Cover
The cover has an Indian feel to it with Kaylin dressed in an elaborately bordered sari-like dress in reds and yellows standing before a rounded window framed in orange brick overlooking an intricately carved partial wall of dragons itself allowing a distant glimpse of a building with tiered roofs lit by a sun just below the horizon.

The title is what the ancestor is, Cast in Flame, as he attempts his takeover.

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