The first actual book in Elantra is Cast in Shadow and it also does a good job introducing Kaylin and her world even if you haven’t read “Cast in Moonlight.” Not only does this novel take place in the present – seven years after the novella – but it deals quite firmly with the past, with what happened before Kaylin tried to kill the Hawklord and the marks on her arms and legs.
We knew they existed, thanks to “Cast in Moonlight,” and we knew that Kaylin most often utilizes their power to heal. But we also saw that power used in other ways if she is not careful and not bound. It’s a surprise, in some ways, that the Empire permits her to live.
Power of the kind Kaylin can wield is sought after by mages, by Arcanists (mages who do not owe loyalty to the Emperor), and by any and all Barrani and Dragons. Kaylin may be mortal and human, but the marks which give her the title Chosen mean she will be a player in games that can easily kill her if she’s not careful.
Against this backdrop, let’s meet Kaylin Neya. She might be on time if her life depended on it, but don’t count on it even then. She can’t budget either, and can easily forget to eat regardless of the state of her wallet. She has no understanding of fashion and her clothing and hair have a tendency to be less than perfect at the best of times. She considers swears to be the most useful part of any language, and takes great pride in her ability to curse in no less than seven languages. Language is, unfortunately, one of the very few classes she passed and her transcripts come up with deplorable frequency.
She’s also very sensitive to magic, skilled at picking up languages, and inordinately hopeful. She spends her free time assisting the Midwives’ Guild and at the Foundling Hall (orphanage). She’s every Hawk’s younger sister and has a remarkable ability to put disparate pieces of information together and find a cohesive whole. She’s honest and blunt to a fault as well, and understands that the reason why she has not had the…honor…of meeting the Emperor is because she’d undoubtedly commit some gross breach of protocol and he’d be forced to eat her.
I do mean that literally. The Emperor is a Dragon. But at this point in the series, he is merely the looming shadow of rulership over the world in which Kaylin lives. Except for the fiefs, of course. The fiefs are on the other side of the river from Elantra, and are the oldest parts of the city. But the only law in each fief is that of the fieflord. We’ve met one of those in this book too – Lord Nightshade, an outcaste Barrani. What being outcaste means for the Barrani is not something that has been well defined yet, but the caste system is fairly simple.
Each different race has it’s own Caste and Caste Court. All issues and problems concerning only members of that species are confined to the Caste Court unless if Imperial aid is requested. Multiracial issues are dealt with by the Halls of Law. It is stated that one reason why the Caste Courts exist is because the Barrani will surrender their own to Dragon justice when the world ends. If then.
Anyway, Cast in Shadow drops us right into the thick of things. There’s serial killings going on, Kaylin has to confront her past in a way she’s been avoiding for seven years, and the Festival is coming up. Just another couple weeks in the life of a Hawk.