Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

REVIEW: Cast in Ruin by Michelle Sagara

Dear Ms. Sagara,

Ah, the peril of the long-running series. I knew in the back of my mind that your ongoing Elantra series consisted of many books but checking Amazon, I see that Cast in Ruin is book 7. This both surprises me and makes me wince. Surprise because I can’t believe it’s been that many books already (I remember when Cast in Shadow first came out!), but wince because at some point, the barrier of entry for new readers becomes too high.

Cast in Ruin Michelle SagaraCast in Ruin continues the fallout from the previous novel, Cast in Chaos, in which a magical storm introduced a new race of people to Elantra. Because this new race is one of small giants, the people of Elantra are understandably wary. Efforts are underway to smooth over relations between the races but unsurprisingly, it’s a slow process.

Kaylin Neya, human Hawk (sort of the equivalent of a police officer) and gifted with magical abilities no one else has or entirely understands, continues her ongoing etiquette lessons with the Dragon Court. Given the nature of her talents, she has to meet the Dragon Emperor sometime but first, she has to become presentable enough so as to avoid being eaten. Further complicating her life are the race of giants whose presence requires attention and a work force already taxed by an involved and long-running investigation into other matters of the city.

But things take a turn for the bizarre when dead women start showing up around the fief the immigrants have made their home. Under other circumstances, people would look towards the newcomers as the source of the problem. That assumption is dismissed, however, by one minor detail. The dead bodies are all of the same exact woman.

It took me an embarrassingly long time to read this novel. It read long and only my love for your works kept me going because had this been any other author, I would have tossed this book aside. Now I realize your books are generally long. I feel like this is a defining trait of your works. Normally, I’m fine with that. Traditional fantasy is my love, after all. But this was the first book of yours where I struggled to finish and in fact having finished it, I still don’t know if the effort to keep going was worth it.

Without going into spoilers, my main issue is that while things happened, I didn’t feel like there was much forward progress in the book. Yes, I realize there was a game-changer, of sorts, introduced in the latter parts of the novel. The problem with this is that I felt like the sole purpose of the book was to introduce this game-changer. Who came into the book. And then the book ended. It’s a bit of a letdown, you know?

It’s true that because of the lead up to the new character’s introduction, we learn more about the dragons. Unfortunately, the information wasn’t imparted in any way I found compelling. How long have we been waiting for Kaylin’s much-anticipated introduction to the Dragon Emperor? Now I realize she isn’t at all ready for that meeting, but how many books has it been? Has she made any forward progress at all? At the rate we’re going, I have doubts as to whether we will even see that meeting within the next 2 books given the assumed location of the next installment.

That said, we do finally get a much-needed conversation between Kaylin and Severn. Does it lead anywhere or change anything? No, not especially. While I liked seeing what Kaylin actually thought of Nightshade, that subplot is moving about as fast as the built-up meeting to the Dragon Emperor. Perhaps even slower. I’m not particularly frustrated by the lack of progress but 1) by this point, I don’t expect any on that front anymore and 2) I was more irritated by other things.

Long-running series are difficult to keep interesting. I say this as a reader who’s followed many (Kelley Armstrong’s Otherworld, George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire). What keeps me invested is change. While some readers would say that the new character in this book did introduce change to the series, I would argue that while it did introduce change to the world, it didn’t introduce an immediately obvious change to Kaylin. Sure, she gets a new roommate but how does this affect her character arc? After all, for all intents and purposes, the new character is essentially an immortal version of Kaylin and to be blunt, one of that character type per novel is enough. I feel like the proportion of scale was lost.

While it’s true Kaylin is not the same character we first met in Cast in Shadow, I’m not entirely convinced she’s made as much character progression as you’d expect for someone who’s gone through 7 books. She’s striking me as static at the moment. Does that mean massive character evolution couldn’t happen in the next novel? No, of course not but I’m not seeing it and it’s making my interest in this series flag. I honestly don’t know how much more of this non-progress I can take. And new readers beware: this is a not a good entry point into the series. We’ve long since passed that point, unfortunately. C

My regards,
Jia

Previous books in this series: Cast in Shadow, Cast in Courtlight, Cast in Secret, Cast in Fury (review), Cast in Silence (review), Cast in Chaos (review)

Goodreads | Amazon | BN | nook | Sony | Kobo

Jia is an avid reader who loves fantasy and young adult novels. She's also currently dipping her toes in the new adult genre but remains unconvinced by the prevalent need for traumatic pasts. Her favorite authors are Michelle West and Jacqueline Carey. YA authors whose works she's enjoyed include Holly Black, Laini Taylor, Ally Carter, and Megan Miranda. Jia's on a neverending quest for novels with diverse casts and multicultural settings. Feel free to email her with recommendations at [email protected]!

16 Comments

  1. Randi
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 14:38:48

    I would argue that series fatigue isn’t an attribute of a long running series in and of itself, but rather when the time span between each book is very short. Which is what I think is happening here. It’s only been 1 week between book 6 and book 7, and book 7 covers another week. When put in that perspective, of course there cannot be any character movement, because that’s not how life works. I think it would work better if the time span between books was much much MUCH longer, mixed with a longer time span WITHIN the book. Does that make sense?

    While I gave this a B, because I WAS engaged and read it very quickly, the time span issue was at the forefront of my mind. Additionally, I felt like Sagara backtracked, in terms of Kaylin’s relationship with Severn AND Nightshade. Suddenly, we’re back to square one with both!? Lastly, and this is part of the condensed timeline, I was very annoyed with Kaylin’s resistance to learning dragon etiquette. She continues to act like a spoiled brat, which, on the one hand, when you take into consideration the condensed timeline, makes sense. On the other, it’s extremely annoying and I simply want to slap her upside the head.

    This series is still an auto-buy for me, but I agree that there needs to be some series character growth, to continue to keep me engaged.

  2. Randi
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 14:40:02

    That should read, “…some SERIOUS character growth…”

  3. Barb in Maryland
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 15:12:27

    @Randi–
    Thanks for summing up my feelings about this series. I do feel that the very tight timeline is working against the series. Every time I get frustrated with Kaylin’s progress I have to remind myself of how little time has passed (story time, that is)since we met her.
    This series is still an auto-read, but I no longer buy it.

    Jia–good review and a very fair grade, IMHO.

  4. AMG
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 18:39:16

    Good review. I had to give up on this series 2 books earlier, because I felt that nothing was moving. It has such an interesting/fresh perspective, but the plot …

    I had forgotten thatt he actual timeline was compressed. I actually wish this wasn’t the case, as it seems to preclude any character development. Too bad.

    But I love her pure fantasy books.

  5. Merrian
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 19:12:48

    @Randi: Haven’t read this installment yet but your comments sum up the feelings I have from the last book. I want Kaylin to mature/grow up otherwise why would I care about what happens to her? Apart from their history why would Severn who is a mature, integrated, interesting person still be waiting for her? It is a good reminder about the tight timeline in the book-time and its implications for the story though, Barb.

  6. Brian
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 19:45:52

    I think it would work better if the time span between books was much much MUCH longer

    Yes, I agree.

    While I enjoyed this book (not as much as some of the others) anytime I get into a book where a few decent length books only cover such a short period of time it’s often tougher to stay engaged. Still like this series a lot and am looking forward to the next one and finding out what happens with the egg.

    If anyone’s an audiobook fan Audible now has the first four in this series available (five should be coming soon).

  7. erinf1
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 21:02:29

    Thanks for the review! I love this series, but this installment wasn’t my favorite either. I liked that this was the “dragon” book and we get more insight about this aspect of the world but I also didn’t fly through this book as I have done with the others. Like everyone has pointed out, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that this series is taking place in such a short time line and each book immediately follows the others in that respect. I do feel, however, that Kaylin is maturing/growing well according to this shorter time period. She’s learning to depend on her cohorts and to temper the power she has by thinking things thorough and not making rash decisions. Even if she still isn’t making progress on the lessons. But… she kinda is, as she didn’t severely anger/insult the newest teacher.

    And as for the romantic subplot… well… she is also still young, I’d guess around 20 and she barely understands what she wants, let along what she desires. That was made evident by the “talk” she finally had with Severin. I love this series and I’m glad that it is focused on the story/fantasy aspect instead of the romantic.

    I also remember the author stating once that she wants to approach this series as like a TV series. Each “episode” is self contained but still with a “season” arc overall. I believe that she is accomplishing this and like even with the good shows, there’s a slower/less liked episode every now and again.

    This series is one of my favorites and definitely on my auto buy list. :)

  8. Nikki
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 22:32:25

    I liked the book as part of a series and enjoyed from the perspective that I got to know more about the world. I do agree that the relatively short timeline of the series as a hole (just a few months from book 1) makes it hard to get growth that we want. For us its been years (and I remember meeting Ms. Sagara at Confluence before the first book came out) and we are thinking okay, some personal development. In reality, Kaylin is only a few months older. The problem with an episodic approach that happens a year at a time is that its been a year for us, and we have had different experiences and changed. So its just hard to tolerate that in a book where you think she should be older too. I think thats my argument for 2 books a year. :)

    I agree that some of her behavior is definitely whiny and somewhat immature. But I think we are beginning to see glimmers of light. I just hope she starts getting it together soon because I don’t think the West March will tolerate her that easily.

    I really just want to know what that egg is though. Another year, sigh. At least Ms. Sagara/West is making progress in her other series so I might actually get the answers I have been waiting for about the House War sometime this decade.

  9. Jessica
    Nov 09, 2011 @ 10:36:28

    I disagree with your comment about long series requiring change to be interesting. In mysteries, which seem to do long running series successfully, the main characters don’t change. Readers can expect that the same characters will be in the next book, the same ones that were in the last book.

    That seems to be what West is doing here. There’s nothing that indicates to me that Kaylin will “grow up”, Severn will get tired of her, or Nightshade will do anything at all. And that’s fine with me.

    I did think this book suffered, and I think you’re right about the problem: the plot built up to the emergence of the new character, and then the book ended. Maybe the next one will be better.

  10. Estara
    Nov 09, 2011 @ 13:24:29

    I can sort of see your point, Jia, but I do have to say – as a reader who also comes from fantasy toward romance and not the other way around – it had the correct level of development for me again (I had done a reread of all the series this years and found that when you read it like that the short time that actually passes in-story is made even more evident) and since I have always loved all the threads MSW picks up (like the fact that her DAW books are basically about the same world and the same developments but focussing on different areas of it – much like Sherwood Smith and her Satorias-deles stories) this was just another lovely strand.

    Kaylin is NOT far enough along in her emotional development to have a real romance right now – truthfully I was surprised that Harlequin is the publisher for MSW in the first place but the books must be doing something right, because she got another contract for three more books in the series.

    I particularly like the fact that long-time readers are rewarded by not having to rehash the back story again and again, so that’s a feature – not a bug – for me ^^. I don’t read Martin or The Wheel of Time (anymore) but I don’t remember info-dumping in those epics either, in later books.

    Maybe it’s just me, but this particular series has become five-star all the way for me (most recent review with spoilers).

  11. Randi
    Nov 09, 2011 @ 13:51:38

    @Jessica,

    I just want to mention that JD Robb, John Sanderson, and Patricia Crowley (all mystery writers with VERY long series) do actually have significant character growth in them. Patricia, especially, is known for killing off long-standing characters. For my taste, these are the series that I stay with. Conversely, and to your point, a “mystery” author like Janet Evanovich, does not have any character growth and each book IS, absolutely, an “episode”. It’s also why I stopped reading Evanovich.

    It really just comes down to individual preference. However, if that is, indeed, what Sagara had in mind, then I feel a little taken advantage of. I didn’t go into this series with an episodic mindset, and I shouldn’t have to actively browse the intertubes to determine whether a series is meant to be written that way. A very short author into would be best and would then manage reader expectations. With this in mind, I am now unsure whether to really continue investing in this series, if Sagara actually has no plans for a story arc…

  12. FD
    Nov 09, 2011 @ 14:27:41

    Mmmm, some good points – I’m inclined to feel like Randi that the short time frame thwarts reader expectations of development a little, and I suspect it must be particularly frustrating if you’re a more romance side of the street reader. Me, I’m reading for the mystery as well as the characters so I’m ok with the emotional arc being drawn out.

    I don’t think this series isn’t intended as episodic, even though each book is it’s own self contained ‘issue’ or adventure – there’s way, way too much world building detail and meaningful character history to be recapped in each book. From what Ms Sagara has said on her blog, (which I skim from time to time) the series is building to a climax, and each book has it’s own theme – sometimes that theme advances the emotional plot and sometimes it advances the origin plot. Sometimes they do both. I gather there’s at least four to go atm, which is fine by me – I’m enjoying the journey.

  13. Randi
    Nov 09, 2011 @ 15:57:12

    @FD: I will say I didn’t start the series from a romance or mystery position. I buy Sagara in the SciFi/Fantasy, so I don’t expect her to abide by Romance or Mystery genre conventions. I don’t know if that helps or hinders your theory, but I wanted to chime in about that. That doesn’t void Jessica’s premise either, that the story arc is episodic. I know a lot of SciFi/Fantasty series that can be described as such (Mike Shepard, I’m looking at you[she says as she buys the latest Kris Longknife book]).

    I guess what it really comes down to is expectations. I wasn’t expecting episodes, so am now feeling a mite miffed. On the other hand, it appears that others did know it was episodic (or in that ballpark) and are generally satisfied with their reading experience.

    Perhaps this is one of those situations where the author expects the reader to be all over the intertubes to get tidbits and background on the series. But I’m not that reader-in fact, I prefer to know as little as possible about the authors I buy, as possible. Which means I’m NOT at their website (unless I need to know the backlist or their next release date). So I feel like that’s a lot of heavy lifting for me, the reader, to have to do, to invest my time in a series.

    @Estara: OMG, yes! I LOVE LOVE LOVE that there’s very little info-dumping from prior books. I understand why authors have to do that, but because I only read a series in order, I find it annoying. Wouldn’t it be great if they had 2 versions: one for those of us who read in order and one for those that are just starting the series?

    @Nikki: You’re perfectly right about Kaylin’s maturity level. When you consider the condensed timeline, she actually HAS matured. But it’s so hard to keep that in mind, especially considering everything she’s been through. I mean, the poor girl hardly has time to catch her breath, much less spend some time introspecting. Now I just feel bad for her…but still faintly annoyed. LOL!

  14. Estara
    Nov 10, 2011 @ 07:18:46

    @Randi: I think she has a story arc – much like she does for the Essalieyan books – but if the books sell well enough that the publisher offers her conditional contracts, like this year, she is able to explore more details than she would have if she raced to the finish.

    I like that ^^.

    @Randi: In a perfect world that would be the case ^^

  15. Jia
    Nov 11, 2011 @ 14:07:42

    Well, like Randi, I don’t come at this series from a romance or mystery background. I come at it from a fantasy background. But as I said, even from a pure fantasy background, I don’t think this was a satisfactory installment. It is 500+ pages of glorified build-up to a new character introduction.

    @Randi: That’s a good point. In some ways, I wish this series were more episodic. That way, the short time span in between wouldn’t be such an issue. I like the idea that these are police procedurals in a fantasy setting but the blending of the subgenres results in some hiccups, I think.

    I also sympathize with you about not keeping up with authors’ sayings on the internetz. The more I like an author, the more I avoid what they say via blogs, twitter, etc. Jane laughs at me for doing this but it’s better for everyone involved.

    @AMG: I’m a big fan of her pure fantasy books too.

    @Brian: Thanks for the tip about Audible.

  16. What Jia’s Been Reading, Late October/Early November - Dear Author
    Nov 16, 2011 @ 14:12:17

    [...] REVIEW: Cast in Ruin by Michelle Sagara [...]

%d bloggers like this: