Sleeps With Monsters

Sleeps With Monsters: Revisiting Michelle Sagara’s Chronicles of Elantra

I’ve been revisiting some more old favourites.

Michelle Sagara has been writing her Chronicles of Elantra series for the last fifteen years. This year sees the publication of the first of a pair of prequel novels, The Emperor’s Wolves. I had the opportunity to read a review copy, and it sent me off to re-read all fifteen of the Chronicles of Elantra, starting with Cast in Shadow.

Those fifteen books (Cast in Shadow, Cast in Courtlight, Cast in Secret, Cast in Fury, Cast in Silence, Cast in Chaos, Cast in Ruin, Cast in Peril, Cast in Sorrow, Cast in Flame, Cast in Honor, Cast in Flight, Cast in Deception, Cast in Oblivion, and Cast in Wisdom) are a satisfying combination of contemporary-feeling secondary world city-based fantasy, and go-big-or-go-home epic. Every single volume has a relatively self-contained arc (at least one major problem, and major frequently means fate-of-the-world, is solved in every one) but the series as a whole has continuing arcs of growth and change for its cast of characters, and especially for its protagonist, Kaylin Neya.

Kaylin is a private in the Hawks, the city of Elantra’s investigative police force. The trouble she encounters isn’t always—or even usually—related to her job. In addition to being a cop, Kaylin’s also possessed of magical powers related to the marks on her skin that appeared when she was a child: powers she doesn’t understand, and which no one else really understands, either. Although history records the previous existence of other people with those marks and similar powers, it doesn’t really record a lot else. Kaylin’s marks, and her tendency to leap to the defence of the underdog, gets her embroiled in a wide range of potentially world-ending trouble.

Kaylin’s grounding in the everyday—her concerns for her success in her chosen profession, her occasional pettiness, her connections with a community—means that, while she’s vitally important in solving world-ending problems, the narrative never puts Kaylin into the role of a chosen one. Even if she is chosen, she doesn’t do things because of fate, or destiny, or special powers: she does it because she’s got a job protecting the people of Elantra, essentially a vocation, and her skills and talents let her do more than she might otherwise be able to do.

As the series has advanced, Kaylin has acquired a wider circle of friends and allies, and in part, these are what give the books fresh interest and appeal with every new volume. More people bring with them more problems and concerns and their own ways of seeing the world—and Elantra, for all that it’s a single city, is a wide weird world indeed. Ruled by the Eternal Emperor, a shapeshifting Dragon, one of only a handful of Dragons remaining, Elantra is home to the immortal (and violently political) Barrani; the winged Aerians; the great-cat-like Leontines; mind-reading Tha’alaani, and humans. As well as the Shadow that dwells, trapped, in Elantra’s heart.

Kaylin’s friends and allies include Ybelline, the leader of the Tha’alaani; Bellusdeo, a former warrior queen, current displaced person, and last living female Dragon; Severn, whom she’s known all her life and who has his own guilts and secrets; Teela, a fellow Hawk, an extremely unusual Barrani lord, and a power among her own people in her own right; and eventually at least one sentient building, one cranky and very old Dragon librarian, and a round dozen youthful Barrani who are not exactly entirely Barrani anymore, and whose political maneouvring means that Kaylin will have to finally get to grips with the kind of politics and etiquette she hates. Among others.

(The Emperor’s Wolves is the story of some of Severn’s secrets, and also stars Ybelline, so it’s a prequel novel that I can entirely get behind.)

The Chronicles of Elantra are enjoyable, entertaining, engaging fantasy novels that always leave me feeling satisfied—and rather reassured, despite occasional horrible things happening, because somehow, it all comes mostly right in the end.

What have you guys been reading lately?

Liz Bourke is a cranky queer person who reads books. She holds a Ph.D in Classics from Trinity College, Dublin. Her first book, Sleeping With Monsters, a collection of reviews and criticism, was published in 2017 by Aqueduct Press. It was a finalist for the 2018 Locus Awards and was nominated for a 2018 Hugo Award in Best Related Work. Find her at her blog, or find her at her Twitter. She supports the work of the Irish Refugee Council, the Transgender Equality Network Ireland, and the Abortion Rights Campaign.


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