I am very fond of the Chronicles of Elantra and now, nine books down, I feel more invested than ever in its characters (yes, even some of the more unpleasant ones) whenever I begin a new book in an ongoing series, I am overcome with dread that it will disappoint and it never ceases to amaze me when that doesn’t happen.
This series (and perhaps Sagara’s wirting) are not everyone, for one, her sentences and style of writing, can seem unusual and abrupt. I know that when I started it, it took me some time to acclimatise to her style, but having done that, I found her books very enjoyable and vastly entertaining. For a series with a wide cast of characters, they all seem very well established and realised with very different personalities. Even among the Barrani (possibly the most uniform race of people, both in terms of physical appearance as well as superficial behaviour) Sagara manages to infuse a distinct personality in their various characters. The pace, as with the previous book, remains uneven, but I think that that’s intentional on Sagara’s part. Cast in Flame starts slowly, at an almost sluggish pace and then suddenly, as it closes on the climax, the pace gets almost frenzied. It is chaotic and very busy; with something happening almost all the time, it is exhausting. I felt that more keenly with this particular book than the rest (although that may simply be because I haven’t re-read them in a very long time.) I sometimes have to revisit the previous books to reacquaint myself with the characters and the setting, but Sagara’s characters and world are so well developed that they remain firmly etched in my mind.
The events that occur in Cast in Flame are a direct consequence of those that occurred in Cast in Sorrow. All is not fine with the newly returned Barrani (the Lost ones) and they are not what they seem to be. They appear Barrani and indeed consider themselves to be Barrani as well, but that’s not what they are. Annarion and Mandoran are chief among the Lost ones that are at the centre of most of the trouble. Said trouble starts in the Keeper’s Garden, spreads to the fief of Nightshade and finally ends in a terrifying showdown that threatens the entire city.
As far as main protagonists go, Kaylin is among my favourite. She has a sense of humour, she is self-deprecating and has a barely developed sense of survival. What I like most about her, is that she’s not afraid to speak her mind (often at the expense of her safety) She doesn’t back down from a difficult task and holds life very precious. She has a keen sense of justice and I am glad to say, even nine books down, that hasn’t changed. It is difficult to develop a character over a period of time, while at the same time, not changing the core of that character. Sagara manages this very well. Kalyin continues to grow into her powers while at the same time, staying true to herself and her own personal ideals. Of course, being stubborn also helps.
Teela had a lot of screen time this time around, much like the two previous books, and she remains one of the my favourite characters. It is clear that she cares very deeply about Kaylin and that comes across, clear as sunlight, in their exchanges. There is almost a sense of indulgence with which Teela treats Kaylin (though, even that isn’t completely accurate) She is strong but doesn’t charge into dangerous situations (as so many female characters tend to do) and when she does, she can take care of herself, more often better than most the male characters. Yet, she too has a sense of humour and her interactions with Kaylin, remain as entertaining as ever.
Bellusdeo, the new dragon and the only female dragon, also spent most of the book with Kaylin. Bellusdeo is an interesting character, she too cares about Kaylin, I might go so far as to say, that she considers Kaylin to be her friend (in as much as an ancient Dragon is able to) She also treats her with respect and this comes across when she appeals to the Dargon Court on Kaylin’s behalf so that things might be easier for her. Yet, her claustrophobia also comes across in her interactions with both Kaylin and other characters. She is being stifled by the life in the Dragon Court. She is viewed less as an individual, and more for what she can do for the Dragon race; produce babies (or eggs) Her frustration is palpable and there is a sense that if something doesn’t give soon, she might take some drastic action.
Of the others, Severn was around as well, though not as much as in some previous books, he remains very much a secondary character but someone Kaylin can depend on unconditionally. He remains her sole link to her life in the fiefs and understands her better than Kaylin herself. Their shared life in the fiefs, also makes their bond stronger.
It was nice to see Tara and Tiamaris as well as Sananalis and the Arkon (among the Dragons) and the Consort, the High Lord (among the Barrani.) Of course, there were other Barrani around as well, like Evarrim and Ynpharion, the former was as odious as ever and the latter was little more sympathetic this time.
Then there is Nightshade; he is as mysterious as ever. His motives are entirely his own and he remains one of the more enigmatic characters. He is untrustworthy, yet strangely enough, quite likeable. I look forward to seeing more of him in the next book.
Helen is the newest character we are introduced to in Cast in Flame, and she is a building, similar and dissimilar to Tara. Helen is not a Tower but like Tara, she too was built/created by the Ancients. One of the most unique things about this series, is its view of buildings, some of the ancient ones (Towers like Tara and the Hallionnes) are sentient and these too have very distinct personalities and have very human needs (companionship, to be needed, etc.) Helen, like Tara, is very much a character, and an interesting one at that.
As for Kalyin’s familiar, well she could finally speak with him, the downside is that she can only do it when he turns into a huge translucent dragon.
And after eight books, we finally meet the Emperor, or rather, Kaylin meets him. He is one of the primary reasons behind Bellusdeo’s unhappiness, he and Diarmat. Bellusdeo is instrumental in the outcome in the fight for the city and far from lauding her bravery, he criticises her for putting herself in danger, which does not make her very happy. The Emperor finally meets Kaylin, at the behest of the Arkon so that Kaylin might drum some sense into his head with her customary lack of tact or self-preservation. And it is particularly pleasing to read their interaction, that Kaylin is not afraid to speak her mind (ok, she is, but she does it anyway) and stands up to him and tries to make him see sense. She does have some success and manages to at least partially convince the Emperor, that his current approach with Bellusdeo is not going to work in his favour. It was also a rare moment of vulnerability on his part to admit that (notwithstanding the colour of his eyes)
Cast in Flame was a solid entertainer with its usual cast of interesting and engaging characters. If you’re willing to be a little patient, this will be a very interesting and fun read.