I picked up this book looking for a fun, quick read. And that was what I got. So the three-star rating is a compromise between my level of enjoyment while reading it (4 stars) and my thoughts on its actual quality looking back (2 stars).
The plot centers around Kaylin Neya, who’s a Hawk, i.e., a cop, in the city of Elantra. She’s assigned to investigate some child murders in the slums where she grew up, which seem to be somehow linked to the mysterious tattoos that have appeared on her body. But she hasn’t been back to the slums since she fled 7 years before, and it quickly becomes evident that there’s a lot she’s hiding from her friends and from the reader. (The book is written in third-person, but from Kaylin's perspective.)
This review is going to seem weighted toward the negative, but before I get into that I’ll reiterate that I really did enjoy the book. It was just what I needed at the time, and my id was all over it. Beyond that, a couple noteworthy things Sagara did well: Kaylin seems to have a life more than most protagonists do, rather than simply existing to fulfill her plot functions. And the relationship between her and Severn pushed my closet-romantic buttons. (I don’t have very many of those buttons, so that’s always nice. It is the sort of relationship that only works in fiction--in real life I’d probably be helping Kaylin get a restraining order--but like I said, this book is all about the id.) And I will grant that Sagara does a decent job with the moral dilemmas presented.
Now, in retrospect, for the more analytical side of my reactions. The following is a bit spoiler-ish, but I’ve made it as vague as possible.
Other reviewers have mentioned a variety of problems with this book. There’s the plot: the mystery seems less fulfilling when you find out that several of Kaylin’s most important allies, including her boss and both of her partners, have known the causes of the murders--for years!--and nobody has bothered to tell Kaylin even though she’s the person who most needs to know. Now granted, a couple of these apparent allies are so enigmatic that when they go to a restaurant, they probably make the waitstaff choose their meals for them to avoid disclosing something so personal as their food preferences to a stranger. But as soon as Kaylin figures out what questions to ask, she gets answers. So the whole thing doesn’t make much sense and feels cheap.
Then there’s the characterization: very broad-brush. Granted, this is standard in thrillers. And the writing. For the most part, it’s.... okay. It's written in the breezy style common to urban fantasy. But sometimes it’s just plain confusing--there’s unattributed dialogue in conversations with more than two people, and confusing magical events that aren’t explained. In some places words are left out, which is the editor’s fault. But then characters do things like “nod quietly”--as opposed to what? nodding loudly?
Finally, the book left me with questions--which may be answered in future volumes, but are basic enough that they should’ve been addressed here. For instance, Elantra’s police force is divided into the Hawks (investigators), Swords (peacekeepers) and Wolves (thugs)--why? The Hawks seem to do everything themselves anyway. And speaking of the Hawks, if you were a police commander and had an officer whose immediate, knee-jerk response to her new partner was attempted murder, would you really deal with this by just telling her to behave and sending them on their way? And the slums are home to noctural man-eating monsters--so why does anyone still live there? And if they've got to stay, why does nobody hunt down and kill these creatures during the day? And what’s stopping the creatures from crossing the river into the better parts of the city anyway? I could go on, but that’s probably enough.
In conclusion, this book is great brain candy, but probably not for the analytical reader. I may pick up the sequel next time I’m in the mood for this sort of thing--but let’s be honest, knowing the potential love triangle is going to be in the same holding pattern for the next several books doesn’t help matters.