Michelle Sagara (a.k.a. Michelle West) handles material in CAST IN SHADOW that would be melodrama in the hands of a less skilled writer. If you're looking for something fluffy and light, this isn't it. This is dense, deep, and passionate.
Kaylin is a Hawk, a soldier/detective in the city of Elantra. She worked hard to get here, clawing her way out of the lawless fief of Nightshade, a neighborhood within Elantra under complete control of a crime lord. Kaylin left Nightshade marked--figuratively by fear and mistrust, and literally by mysterious markings that cover her body and seem to be connected with her rare ability to heal others. Those markings grew on her skin when she was a child, while other children with those marks turned up dead. Seven years later, the murders are starting again and the markings are starting to change...
Under orders from the Lord of the Hawks, Kaylin returns to Nightshade for the first time in the company of a human-shaped dragon and a man she tries to kill on sight. This man, Severn, was once her friend and savior but seven years ago drove her away with an act of unspeakable horror. In the streets of Nightshade, she will be forced to relive her past, deal with the bewildering Lord Nightshade, and push her mysterious powers to the edge.
CAST IN SHADOW is a worthwhile read, with humor, mystery and a real emotional payoff. It's set in wonderful and complex world, populated by many races--from the lion-like Leontine to the perfect, immortal Barrani to the winged Aerians.
The thing that annoyed me the most was the publisher-inserted 'Coming soon - the sequel', stuck right after the final paragraph of the book--which jarred me out of enjoying the ending. While CAST IN SHADOW does stand alone, it is the first of a trilogy that Sagara has signed up to do for Luna. Book 2 is scheduled for summer 2006. If I hadn't been told instantly at the end that there was another one, I would have been perfectly happy with the ending, and even happier when I found out there would be more.
The romance between Kaylin and Severn was just re-beginning. She found out why he committed that terrible act, but is still working on forgiveness. I'm very much looking forward to this relationship growing in the next two books.
Addendum: I've learned that Sagara doesn't see her 3 Luna books as a trilogy, more as "continuing adventures of" - which sounds good to me. To me it felt like Kaylin had had her confrontation with the Big Bad, and was now trying to figure out where to go from here.--Rebekah (28 Sep 05)