Cast in Shadow (Chronicles of Elantra)
Kaylin Neya is a Hawk, the police arm of the Halls of Law in the city of Elantra. She is always oversleeping, never finds time to do her laundry, and can't be bothered to style her hair. Kaylin is brash, impatient, ignorant, and almost suicidally tactless. Kaylin is very human. She is also covered in ancient writing that gives her enormous power to heal or destroy. Kaylin is the Chosen, though no one has ever explained who chose her or why.
For her new case Kaylin is given two new partners. Severn is a man from her past in the poor fief of Nightshade that betrayed her in the most horrific way possible. Tiamaris is a dragon. Their case takes them into Nightshade to investigate murders just like a series of deaths from Kaylin's childhood where someone was killing children with markings like hers. There she meets the fieflord Nightshade and he claims her as his own. Kaylin must face her past and win through the present if she and Elantra are to have a future.
Like the investigation, Elantra is a complex city. The Dragon Emperor rules not only the few remaining dragons like Tiamaris, but also the other races within his lands including humans, the tall immortal Barrani, winged Aerians, cat like Leontines, and the telepathic Tha'alani. Each race has their own caste structure and culture. Bordering the capital city are the fiefs, existing within the empire but completely autonomous under their Lords.
Like Cast in Shadow the rest of the series is focused on Kaylin but we gradually learn more about the various races, individuals and culture. The second, third, and fourth books get into the Barrani, Leontines, and Tha'alani respectively. The major characters from Shadow are carried throughout the series and we gain a few others such as the dragons Sanabalis and the Arkon. The timeline of the books is actually quite short so there isn't tremendous growth in the characters although Kaylin does gradually mature and gain understanding of what the Chosen does. There is a slight love triangle between Kaylin, Severn, and Nightshade. Both men are attracted to her for different reasons, Severn because he loved her when they were still children, and Nightshade because he's attracted to power. The romance factor is very slight in these books since Kaylin is usually too busy saving the world to examine how she feels about either of them. In number 10, Cast in Flame, we finally met the Emperor!
Michelle Sagara says she was inspired by the television series Buffy the Vampire slayer to do something a bit different...this is why she had it published under her maiden name instead of under her married name of Michelle West that she used for her previous series. Not only is Kaylin "The Chosen" but the influence is also seen in the humor, sarcasm, and strong sense of irony these books have. Not to mention a good sense of how ridiculous and odd people can be. The beginning of one book has Kaylin listening to eye witness reports of the events at the conclusion of the previous book. I believe one person reports something about zombie chickens.
There are complaints about the dialog being confusing since Sagara doesn't identify the speaker for each comment. There are only a couple of times I can't infer the speaker for a line so it doesn't bother me. In fact I like the dialog in these books which is good because that's how most information is conveyed. Since Kaylin has paid little attention to history and culture we get the explanations as she does making it seem natural. My one complaint is regarding the end of Cast in Shadow. It feels like Sagara squashed it into too few pages so its more confusing than it should be. That doesn't happen again.
Cast in Shadow, Cast in Courtlight, Cast in Secret, Cast in Fury, Cast in Silence. Cast in Chaos, Cast in Ruin, Cast in Peril, Cast in Sorrow, Cast in Flame, Cast in Honor.....You see why I refer to it as the Cast series! The audiobooks are narrated by veteran reader Khristine Hvam.