Today begins The Chronicles of Elantra, with what I tend to refer to as Book 0.5. That is to say, “Cast in Moonlight” is a novella that is Kaylin’s first story chronologically, detailing how she came to join the Imperial Hawks of Law in the city of Elantra. It’s one of three contained in the book Harvest Moon. This is yet another small collection featuring Mercedes Lackey and two other authors. I only read the one story today because it’s the only one I needed. Lackey’s contribution, “A Tangled Web” is from her 500 Kingdoms series and takes place after The Sleeping Beauty. The other story, “Retribution” by Cameron Haley, is also from an existing series, but not one I’ve read or cared to seek out.
“Cast in Moonlight” was my first exposure to the work of Michelle Sagara West (who has published under both Michelle Sagara and Michelle West as well) and while I wasn’t familiar with the world, I did enjoy both story and writing and was inclined to read more from the same source when the opportunity arose.
It works better than the other two stories in Harvest Moon as an introduction because it is the first chronologically. “A Tangled Web” was no problem since I was already familiar with the world and characters, but because “Retribution” doesn’t read as a first contact point nor do I have any previous familiarity with that world, it fails in comparison.
Sagara introduces us to the main character of Elantra; Kaylin Neya. She is a would-be assassin who was tasked with the death of the Lord of Hawks, Lord Grammarye. This is one of the formative events in Kaylin’s life as she fails in her task and begins a new life for herself. The old one is not obliterated – as we’ll see in subsequent novels – but it gives her a chance to start over and make herself in a new image. It’s a good introduction to the city of Elantra, to the Hawks that function as a police force, and to the various people that live in the Empire. There are several different species, and all of them are represented here.
There are, first and foremost, humans like ourselves and like Kaylin. There are also Aerians such as Lord Grammarye. These are humanoids with large, flight-capable wings on their backs. Next are the Tha’alani. They also look human from afar, but they have two antennae on their foreheads, which they can use to read a person’s mind. Following this, we meet a Leontine. Yes, a big cat-man. Complete with fangs and retractable claws. Leontines tend towards bad tempers and are very territorial. After that, we are introduced to the Barrani, one of the immortal races. Think elves. The Barrani are arrogant, flawless, and not worth pissing off.
The last race found in the city is seen in this story, but not actually mentioned for what it is, and that would be Dragons, the other immortal race. We’ll find out later that the Barrani and Dragons have had a number of wars over the millennia, and relations between the two tend to be rocky at best.
The interplay of the different species is one of the ongoing themes of the series, and the more we learn about each race, the more interesting it becomes. The other constant is, of course, Kaylin, and her quest to be a mature adult while not giving up her hopes and dreams. But again, that’s for later. “Cast in Moonlight” shows her at age thirteen, when she’s begun to see the world for the cynical place it is, but can still hold onto the fantasies she knew as a child.