Cast in Shadow (Chronicles of Elantra #1)
By Michelle Sagara
A story where words are not only mightier than the sword, but they are also capable of blowing up a building.
At the onset of puberty, Elianne discovers words like tattoos forming on her arms and legs. Then all hell breaks loose - children are being murdered and found with these same marks in the fief of Nightshade - her home - a rough, lawless, wrong-side-of-the-river place. Seven years after she escaped from Nightshade and found a home in the grand city of Elantra, Elianne, now called Kaylin Neya, finds that history is repeating itself.
This fantasy story, the first in the Chronicles of Elantra series, takes place in a beautifully described world with strange races and many problems. Kaylin is a Hawk, one of the three branches of service in the Halls of Law, in which she is part of the police force for the city. She is sent back into the heart of Nightshade to investigate the resurgence of these murders with former friend and current enemy, Severn. With the help of a Dragon lord and the Lord of Nightshade (a Barrani, an immortal, elf-like race, who are as arrogant and cold as they are beautiful), Kaylin must learn about the ancient language that makes up the marks on her body and the powers they give her in order to fight the evil that's searching for her.
While much of this story is made up of the fantastic, at its heart is the trauma of Kaylin's youth and how she struggles to overcome it. She is forced to face the past before she can move on to the present concerns. This story envelops the reader in its fantasy world, but what I found most compelling is Sagara's depiction of words and names and the power they can hold. In this place that power is tangible; it can both save a life and bring down walls (both figuratively and literally).
This book is generally considered an adult title, but it has excellent YA cross-over potential. Kaylin is probably about 20 in this story. Her abilities and training make her more capable than her age would suggest, yet her past and attitude tend to make her act younger than her age. This book would be accessible and appropriate for teens who have a love for fantasy. I highly recommend it!