In preparation for her new book this November, I’ve reread (well actually I audio-booked this time during various car trips) Michelle Sagara’s, Cast in Flame, Book 10 of The Chronicles of Elantra series.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the series:
I’ve been rather a large fan of Sagara’s world of Elantra since I stumbled across the first book in what is now a series approaching the length of other noted writers such as Robert Jordan/Brandon Sanderson’s Wheel of Time series.
Yes, I’m in denial that Wheel of Time is over and am saving the last book for the moment I’m emotionally ready for the conclusion. Don’t judge me.
My relationship with Sagara is one of both devoted fan for all things Private Kaylin Neya, but also a reader experiencing some sincere impatience with the author’s need to reiterate certain aspects of the character’s ability and world to the point of blunt force trauma for the audience.
Losing her way:
In past books, Sagara has taken painstaking (trust me, I think I still bear the scars from all the stakes pounded in) time detailing Private Neya’s ability to see magic in a fashion others don’t. Invariably, our young-in-age-but-old-in-experience character doesn’t understand a thing about what she is seeing, but still manages to pull a miracle out of the strange words that build worlds.
In a few of the most recent books, I’ve felt that Sagara’s editors should have reigned in this tendency with force if necessary: Ruler to the knuckles every time the author starts getting too vaguely philosophical for any but the most determined fans to finish.
Another bit of annoyance in the last few books has been the fact I’ve seen very little growth or progression for Private Neya emotionally, a character who’s past and present are an extremely complex personal tangle that need unraveling.
From Cast in Shadow to Cast in Fury (Cast in Silence is borderline) I felt actual forward movement for Private Neya as she tackled each world-ending challenge. Then suddenly, it seemed to me that she just sort of fell into a “I don’t know what to do, but I guess I’ll do this to save the world,” limbo.
For example, she learned how to light the damn candle…let her light it consistently. She should have internalized this lesson by now…dear…God..
There could be some argument that she’s still experiencing personal growth through each world-threatening challenge as she faces fears of loss and trust, but I don’t feel the character was given enough leeway to truly accept what she learned to use in later books. Also, much of the emotional baggage she tackles in these middle books are things she was supposed to have defeated throughout the first four or five adventures.
I don’t regret the addition of new awesome characters like Bellusdeo or the squawky one and so don’t believe the middle books were completely wasted, but I do feel, the pace needs to pick up.
I am hopeful that Cast in Flame is a sign that Sagara plans to do just that—finally let Private Neya absorb what she’s learned and become a somewhat more competent adventurer.
Ignite the fires:
Whether Private Neya is helping a run-down old building named Helen rejuvenate lost memories and powers while tackling concepts of home (again somewhat heavy handed writing) or tackling an ancient demon with her ability to bring words to life, Sagara is finally setting the young Hawk up for some real change.
During Cast in Flame, Private Neya’s been uprooted from her rag-tag comfort zone, she’s forced to recognize she’s going to be in royal company more than she could ever want and she’s going to be facing some very real relationship hurtles (her own and Bellusdeo’s) in the near future.
She stands up to several people that I wouldn’t have expected her to, while taking an almost knowledgeable stance on her magical duties. She is herself throughout the entire book and is not swamped by the myriad of other characters and action spinning around her constantly—certainly a feat for the author.
We get a little glimpse of the future battles to come between the shadow slowly encroaching the city’s fiefs and beyond. Private Neya, along with the other characters, manage to hold the city against what is perhaps its largest test to date, but not without loss.
Private Neya is starting to bear with a bit more grace a mantle that is larger than her role as a Hawk, but still intrinsically formed by that role. I’m not sure what’s happened to her duties with the birthing guild, but hopefully they will return as I feel those are the moments when her magic is strongest as well as most important to her and those who watch her.
I feel in Cast in Flame, we finally get to see Kaylin growing again.
I couldn’t be more excited.
The end (or is it the beginning?):
I am ready to jump in with Sagara for the next installment of Cast in Honor, due to come out Nov. 24. Yes, I have ordered the Kindle book and plan to abandon my husband and, by then, two-month-old first child for the hours it takes to devour it.
Let’s just hope and pray that our ability as a competent reader has been taken into account, that we aren’t bombarded with what is now second Neya-nature.
We know the characters.
We know the world.
Trust us to understand the potential behind both.
Thanks for writing, Sagara!:
Sound harsh? I hope not too much. I love the world, I love Kaylin, and I will read to the end. But from one writer to another, these are the flaws that have almost lost me several times.
Overall rating “Cast in Flame”: ****