Cast in Peril is the eighth instalment in Michelle Sagara’s “Chronicles of Elantra” series. From the beginning, this series has followed Private Kaylin Neya of the Hawks, the investigative police force of the multi-species city of Elantra, as she stumbles, crashes, and sometimes skids through the various investigations and occasional crises that have a happy knack of threatening her existence, and intermittently the city’s, too.
Cast in Peril is the first volume to take Kaylin out of Elantra, and even further out of her comfort zone than she’s been forced to go so far. Manipulated into traveling with the Barrani Caste Court on their annual (somewhat mysterious) pilgrimage to the West March by the fieflord Nightshade, on a journey that will take at least eight weeks and may well terminate in peril and danger, it’s understandable that Kaylin isn’t the happiest traveler ever informed by her superiors that she had to set out.
That was before a) her lodgings fall victim to a magical bomb designed to assassinate either her or her roommate, the last living female Dragon in the world, b) the peculiar egg she’s been keeping since the last great magical crisis to hit the city decides to hatch, and c) she learns that Nightshade may have had a role to play in the disappearances of some people from the fief of Tiamaris - the presumably fatal disappearances. It doesn’t seem like quite such a bad idea to get away from the city after all. Not that she has a choice, if she wants to keep her job.
While to date the “Chronicles of Elantra” books have been relatively self-contained, there is an overall series arc, and this is not, perhaps, the most forgiving of entry points for the new reader. The long-time reader may also be a little disappointed: while familiar characters like Severn, Teela, and Nightshade have their parts to play, many of the more interesting developments of previous volumes with regard to the fief of Tiamaris and the intriguing possibilities represented by Bellusdeo, the last female Dragon, are put on hold for the duration.
And it is, indeed, quite the duration. Sagara writes with her usual fine attention to detail, tension, and character, but my threshold for “These characters are going somewhere, and bad things will happen en route, and there will be some resolution (but not the resolution you were expecting)” is low this week.
Don’t get me wrong: I enjoyed Cast in Peril. I enjoyed it quite a lot, in fact: Kaylin is at her most entertaining when she’s out of her depth, and the games of intrigue and status as played among the immortal Barrani are really well done, especially as the stakes along the journey grow higher and higher, and as more and more is revealed about why the pilgrimage to the West Marches is both really important and pretty dangerous* - and it was rewarding to learn more about Teela, and her connection to the mystery of the West March.
*Hint: it has to do with the shadows. Always the shadows.
But the climax, when it comes, is insufficiently awesome to win my wholehearted approval. Most of the payoff is deferred until the next installment: in many ways, Cast in Peril reads like the middle book of a trilogy, with the traditional Middle Book Slump. I can recommend this volume with merely lukewarm enthusiasm: it is another Kaylin book, and entertaining, but if the payoff in the next one isn’t damn well amazing, I’ll be retroactively disappointed.
Liz Bourke wrote this while sitting at a dining room table in Athens, Greece. She would like to note that life is sometimes pretty undeservedly awesome.