Cast in Secret is the third book in the Chronicles of Elantra series so I am going to give an overview without giving spoilers for the first two books (Cast in Shadow and Cast in Courtlight).
The setting is a fantastical city by the sea – ruled by a dragon emperor. As with all cities, it is segmented into different neighborhoods, and it is full of people of all castes, races and beliefs. Living side by side are mortal humans, mages, winged people (the Aerians), lion people (the Leontines), Dragons, super-empaths (the Tha'alani), and elf-like immortals (the Barrani). Kaitlin grew up in the poorest part – in the fief, but now she is an adult, and belongs to one of the three arms of the law – the Hawks. This is akin to the detective branch. The Swords are the beat cops, and the Wolves are the executioners. Kaitin is unusual – she has unexplainable magical ability and tattoos on her body which bring attention to her from powerful people.
Book 1 seemed to center on the story of Kaitlin and where she came from and introduces the main characters. Book 2 moves the plot forward while focusing on the Barrani. In book 3, the focus seems to be the Tha'alini.
This book is a magic-filled detective story. Kaitin is asked to investigate the theft of a locked box with no keyhole. Of course things are not that simple. In fact, things could get very bad if the box isn't found. On top of that, Kaitlin – who has a major soft spot for children, sees a girl in the reflection of a pool in the same room the box was stolen from. This girl calls out her name, and Kaitlin feels she must find and help this child.
This will be the 3rd book in what so far is a 5 book series. So while the story is almost standalone, when it comes progressing Kaitlin's relationships and powers and it does feel like a transition book. This is a Luna book, which usually means some romance, but there is very little in this series. There are two possible love interests, but the relationships are subtle.
As usual, the writing is very strong. There are interesting characters and magical happenings and I LOVE the worlds that Sagara creates. As I have said before – she's on my autobuy list.
But I have a couple of nits. In all books, Kaylin is considered ignorant and barely an adult that world – and I'm just as clueless as she is, so the reader learns as she does. I felt that this worked in book 1 and 2 but by the third book I'm beginning to feel irritated. This is because people pointing out her stupidity and offensiveness by not knowing their customs in book 3 was getting tired – she should have learned not to keep making this same mistake, or they should have learned to stop pointing this out, no? Another repeating theme was Kaitlin's exclusion from important secrets. If she is supposed to help everyone, shouldn't they tell her these things? This happening in every book means you have to read slowly and pay attention because Kaitlin (and the reader) are kept in the dark with only small hints about the big secret thrown in along the way. This is ok, and in fact enjoyable for a couple of books, because I like the way the story takes it's time to unfold, but by the third, I was feeling impatient with this ploy. I'm actually surprised that I found ANYTHING negative to say here, because I love love love Michelle Sagara.
OK even with this nit, I liked the book, but it does not topple my favorite – the second book – Cast In Courtlight. AHH, one more year for the next one!
Hmm. I just looked at Sagara's website and she says "The "Cast" Series (5 linked books – not a pentalogy)". What does not a pentalogy mean? So maybe this is why it feels like each book is semi-standalone. I hope that more progress is made in finding out what her powers mean and the relationships though..