Book Review – Cast in Shadow by Michelle Sagara

Cast in Shadow
Cast in Shadow by Michelle Sagara

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A poor and homeless street urchin in the fiefdom of Nightshade, Kaylin Neya fled when strange tattoo like markings appeared on her skin, the same markings found on a number of recently murdered children.

Several years later, Kaylin is now the youngest member of the Hawks, one of the three forces which keep the city of Elantra safe. However, her past is about to catch up with her, as fresh reports of murdered children bearing strange marks are received.

When the Hawklord teams Kaylin up with Severn, a man from her Nightshade past, Kaylin’s immediate response is to try and kill him, and any form of partnership seems unlikely. But with children’s lives at risk, Kaylin must put some of her past behind her whilst revisiting other parts she’d rather remained forgotten, and force herself to work with Severn to rescue the children.


I absolutely loved reading this series, and am eagerly awaiting the next book which is due out next month.

I devoured all eight available books over a two and a half week period in February and loved them all. Even when read back to back, the characters and events never became predictable or repetitive. This lets me “cheat” and use the one review for the first eight books in the series!

The worlds building in this series is incredible. There are at least half a dozen intelligent species, each with their own culture, factions, politics and abilities. In the first book, we get an overview of the various species through Kaylin’s limited exposure to them, from her uncertain fear of the usually distant ruling Dragons, to her familiarity and envy of the magical, beautiful Barrani and graceful, flying Aerians, to her respectful submissiveness to the lion like Leontines and dreaded fear of the telepathic Tha’alani.

Then book by book, Sagara introduces us to each species in turn, as the various tasks she’s set or takes on lead her to spend more time with a given species than is usually safe for an outspoken human like Kaylin. Each species has both its savoury and unsavoury members and characteristics, and a believable history that’s lead them to who and where they are now. I don’t know how much planning Sagara put into this world and its species, but it must have been a lot, and it certainly pays off in the way the various species come to life throughout each book.

It’s not only the background characters and species which have believable motivations and history. All of the main characters likewise have various pasts which have shaped them and continue to motivate them in the present. We’re often unaware of what these are, but every now and again Kaylin discovers some random piece of knowledge which sheds light on a character’s interactions, leaving us thinking “of course s/he does”.

Throughout each book and series, all of the characters show logical development, and eight books in none have become levelled up superheroes with powers beyond mortal comprehension. Yes, they’ve learned new skills or developed new abilities, but they always come at a price, and keep the characters grounded.

Character wise, I absolutely loved Kaylin. She’s clever, compassionate, loyal principled and draws on all these attributes to survive and complete the tasks she’s been set. She’s also sometimes her own worst enemy, those same attributes meaning she can’t walk away, even when completely out of her league. All up, I’d have to rate her as one of my top ten favourite protagonists.

If neither world building nor character development are your thing, then there’s always the plots. For most of the books the plots are standalone (with the exception of book eight which ends at a plot interlude rather than conclusion), and follow the tried and tested investigation style, with mystery and magic thrown in to keep things spicy. Whilst each plot is standalone, they build on their predecessors, with previous events influencing the environment in each subsequent book.

I also really liked Sagara’s writing style. She had a steady pace that just carried me along within a book, and from book to book. I was never bored, and more often than not had to make myself stop reading and go to sleep.

If you enjoy fantasy with a strong female protagonist, I’d say this series is a must read. If fantasy’s not your thing, give it a reluctant miss.

Bring on the next book!


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