Kaylin Neya has a past (don't we all?). But she's trying to forget it. Now, she tells herself, she is a Hawk, serving the land of Elantra. Hawks are the eyes and ears of Elantra, serving to maintain the peace along with the Swords and Wolves (it's complicated, I think... that or just badly explained in the book). But it's hard to escape your past when you've got strange powers that don't go along with anything the Mages understand, and when your arms are covered in strange markings.
It's also hard when the nightmare from your past appears, and you're supposed to work alongside him. And a Dragon. Yeah.
Okay, so it's hard to sum up this book with a dramatic, realistic tone, so let's try it this way: Kaylin grew up in the Fiefs, a basically lawless group of lands each ruled by a Fieflord. There, mysterious and terrifying killings began, and all the victims had the same markings as Kaylin. But when she was thirteen, she managed to escape into Elantra, where she began serving the empire by becoming a Hawk.
But then one day, she is assigned a new mission by the Hawklord to go back to the Nightshade, the fief where she grew up, to investigate the reappearance of the murders of marked children. And her two partners are Severn, the boy she grew up with in the Nightshade (who did something REALLY BAD, but we don't get to know what that was until halfway through the book, so I won't say anything), and Lord Tiamaris, a member of the Dragon Caste (they aren't fully explained until later in the book either, so... no spoilers). Supposedly, both Severn and Tiamaris have become Hawks, but Severn might as well be a criminal, and Dragons never become Hawks.
Hijinks ensue. Yeehaw.
Okay, I sound sarcastic, but I actually did enjoy Cast In Shadow. Well, mostly. I would've enjoyed it if the writing was...better. It felt very much like a rough draft, like it could've been amazing if Michelle Sagara had just gone over it a few times. There were random sentences in there that were probably put in for poeticness, but they just made things confusing and cluttered. On the other hand, most of the writing was un-cluttered. There wasn't nearly enough description, and I had to fill in most of the gaps with my imagination and hope I was close to the truth.
For instance... how the heck do they get from Elantra to the Fiefs? Everytime they'd go it seemed like they just walked over and it took about five minutes. If the Fiefs are lawless and so hard for the Dragon Emperor (who I think rules Elantra? It was hard to tell) to control, then shouldn't they be a little farther away than NEXT DOOR?
There's also a lot of chitchat, which seems to be how most of the explaining is done. Oftentimes, I couldn't tell who was speaking, either.
The characters are pretty cool though, for the most part. Lord Tiamaris is freakin' awesome. FREAKIN' AWESOME, I SAID!! *glomps him*
Severn is just okay. Bit of a cliché, but he pulls it off passably. Lord Nightshade (ruler of Nightshade) is pretty cool. And then we get to Kaylin Neya. Heh.
Basically, she's pretty darn stupid, but that makes her kind of endearing. I mean, everyone knows she's stupid, and I love how she's not one of the big shots at Hawk HQ. She's lowest of the low, always late, never proper, and never really knows what's going on. She failed pretty much every class in Hawk school, which gives everyone else the excuse to explain things to the reader.
Though sometimes, they don't explain. She'll say something stupid, and the other people will look at each other and go "You didn't tell her?" "Of course not." "Okay, let's leave it that way." and they'll just carry on with their lives. It gives the impression that Michelle Sagara hasn't really figured out the details yet.
Like I said, rough draft.
There are like, five more books in the Elantra series, so maybe she'll get around to explaining a few things. I'm hoping her writing gets better too. The second book is called Cast In Courtlight, which sounds absolutely stupid, but by "Court" they mean the Barrani High Court, so maybe it'll cool after all (the Barrani are one of the high races, along with the humans and Dragons and... other people I can't remember). Although with her stupidity, I don't see how Kaylin would last two seconds in a Court, much less a Barrani one.
You might like this if you: like fantasy worlds like Poison Study (Maria V. Snyder) or Graceling (Kristin Cashore); are looking for a fantasy book that's not very typical; have a fondness for unattractive covers (I really don't like this cover, I'm sorry); if you like awesome Dragon people (WE LOVE YOU, TIAMARIS); or if you have a fondness for vampires, dragons, or zombies and want to read every single book that so much as mentions them.