Liz Bourke Reviews Cast in Oblivion by Michelle Sagara

Cast in Oblivion, Michelle Sagara (Mira 978-0-7783-0784-6, $16.99, 538pp, tp) February 2019. Cover by Glenn Mackay & Shane Rebenschied.

Michelle Sagara has a long career behind her under at least two names. Her House War series as Michelle West is ongoing, and she’s been writing the Chronicles of Elantra series as Mi­chelle Sagara for going on 15 years now. Cast in Oblivion comes to us as the 14th novel in a series that started, once upon a time, as a set of stories akin to fantasy police procedurals. It’s only grown more and more epic since its inception, with its characters consistently faced with new and differ­ent variations on a threat to their existence, and the existence of their world.

Many of the earlier Elantra novels are pretty forgiving of new readers (so forgiving, in fact, that I generally advise people to start with the second book, which is tonally a better match for the series’ continuing direction). But the most recent ones – which is to say everything after Cast in Chaos – tend to require the reader to already have a good grasp of the context and the ongoing problems that the series presents its main character, Private Kaylin Neya of the Elantran Hawks. Kaylin might be a private in the city police force, but she’s marked by magic that she’s only beginning, very slowly, to understand, and fate – and her habit of leaping in to help her friends – has put her time and again at the nexus of significant events. As a result, she’s saved the world (or if not the world, an awful lot of lives) probably several times over. Her etiquette hasn’t gotten any better, although she has the only known female Dragon as a roommate and she’s a Lord of the Barrani court.

When Kaylin went to the West March, she didn’t mean to come within a hair’s breadth of starting a war. But among her companions was the Dragon Bellusdeo, and she returned to Elantra with nine Barrani immortals, friends of her friend Teela – who have been much changed by their experiences in the so-called heart of the green.

Dragon-Barrani politics are fraught at the best of times, and Barrani court politics can be murder­ous. The returned Barrani want to take their places as Lords of the court, which means undergoing the Test of Name. What they don’t know, and Kaylin does, is that at the heart of the Barrani High Court, at the centre of the Test of Name, is a Shadow that’s been doing its level best to warp Barrani to its cause – and it traps Barrani who fail the Test of Name, using their names as fuel.

The Barrani Consort – the mother of her race – had tried to kill or imprison Kaylin’s new Barrani houseguests rather than risk them taking the Test of Name. If they failed, their power could be laid at the feet of the ancient enemy, and it could be ruinous. Now she wants their help, and Kaylin’s. If they take the Test of Name knowing the stakes, if they have her help and Kaylin’s, perhaps they can vanquish this threat lurking at the heart of the Barrani High Halls, and free the trapped names of the lost. It’s a dangerous gamble.

The Chronicles of Elantra has accreted to itself a wide cast, and Kaylin is very much focused on people rather than systems, so the real joy of a new instalment in this series is being able to reunite with familiar characters. In Cast in Oblivion we learn more about Teela (Lord An’Teela of the Barrani court) and her Barrani compatriots, and Kaylin learns a little more about the value of patience – and manners.

This is a fast, fun novel, delightfully enjoyable in the best tradition of Sagara’s work. While it may be light and entertaining, it’s got some serious questions at its core. I’m already looking forward to the next book in the series.

Liz Bourke is a cranky queer person who reads books. She holds a Ph.D in Classics from Trinity College, Dublin. Her first book, Sleeping With Monsters, a collection of reviews and criticism, is out now from Aqueduct Press. Find her at her blog, her Patreon, or Twitter. She supports the work of the Irish Refugee Council and the Abortion Rights Campaign.

This review and more like it in the April 2019 issue of Locus.

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