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Bewildering Stories

Michelle Sagara, Cast in Shadow

reviewed by Danielle L. Parker

Cast in Shadow
Author: Michelle Sagara
Publisher: Luna, 2005
Length: 507 pages
ISBN: 0-373-8-254-4
It’s usually easiest to review the first in a series of books. So let me tell readers first off that Cast in Shadow is the first a series which already has, so far as I know, at least three books (Cast in Courtlight being the next). They’re all fat books. You’ll get your $6.99 worth of reading in these books.

Kaylin is a member of the paramilitary police force Hawks who serve the Hawkmaster, one of the Lords of Law. The Hawkmaster, Lord Grammayre, is one of the five races of this fantasy world, and as you might guess, he’s human, with wings (rather angelic, especially as he is prone to dispensing hugs to teary young Kaylin). There are lion-men, the Leontine; dragon-men (which includes the Emperor himself); the elf-like and wizardly Barrani; the tentacle-topped Tha’lani, who are mind-readers, and ordinary garden-variety humans.

All serve the Emperor, but various lords hold semi-autonomous fiefdoms (cities). This includes the slum city where Kaylin grew up. The Barrani lord Nightshade holds this dubious prize and seems to belong to the good guys, though he does little to clean up his backyard or share the wealth. But there’s more than the usual crime going on in Slumtown this time. Children marked with strange tattoos just like Kaylin are found murdered. While Lord Nightshade seems to turn a blind eye to his neighborhood crime for the most part, this crime may have connections with the mysterious Old Ones.

Kaylin, with her childhood companion Severn, is called into the slums to check out the mystery. But the mystery gets darker. Why do Kaylin’s tattoos change with each killing? Why did Severn commit such a heinous deed in the past, one that Kaylin can’t forgive or understand? What is the real nature and purpose of Tiamaris, the dragon man assigned as the third on their investigative team? And what does the Barrani lord of Nightshade want from young Kaylin?

This is a fast-paced and inventive book with a new set of races to liven up the fantasy. It has only one problem, which is, unfortunately, enough of a doozy I won’t be picking up the rest of the series myself.

The book is... twee is I suppose the best word to describe it. I prefer my character relationships more realistic. Kaylin’s less a policewoman than a pet or mascot. Her boss dispenses hugs and fatherly forgiveness. The gruff lion-man sergeant bares his teeth but doesn’t mean it when confronted with yet another example of Kaylin’s chronic tardiness, uniforms worn inside out, and habit of ruffling her colleagues’ feathers (literally, in this case). She even gets away with attempting to kill a colleague right in front of her boss.

By the end of the book, this coyness had me gritting my teeth. Ah, for a boss of such indulgent paternalism in real life! I guess I’m just not cute enough to be a pet.

But if twee doesn’t inspire you to gnashing of the teeth, the rest of the book will keep your attention. Ms. Sagara is a good fantasy world-builder. Too bad the characters are often too much fantasy to swallow.

Copyright © 2009 by Danielle L. Parker

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