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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

RE-REVIEW: A Dance Of Shadows by David Dalglish (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


Official Author Website 
Order the book HERE 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of A Dance Of Cloaks 
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of A Dance Of Blades
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of A Dance Of Mirrors 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Cloak & Spider
Read Fantasy Book Critic interview with David Dalglish 
Read Fantasy Book Critic cover art interview with David Dalglish
Read "Sequels And Satisfying Endings" by David Dalglish (guest post)

AUTHOR INFORMATION: David Dalglish is the author of the popular Half Orc fantasy series and the Paladin series. He was born in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He graduated from Missouri Southern State University in 2006 with a degree in Mathematics and used to work with Special Education students. He lives with his family in Missouri; A Dance Of Cloaks was his traditional publication debut.

OFFICIAL SYNOPSIS:"Prove that you can stand against the darkness and live." 

In book #4 of the Shadowdance series, Haern is the King's Watcher, born an assassin only to become the city of Veldaren's protector against the thief guilds.

When Lord Victor Kane attacks the city, determined to stamp out all corruption, foreign gangs pour in amidst the chaos in an attempt to overthrow the current lords of the underworld.

And when a mysterious killer known as the Widow begins mutilating thieves, paranoia engulfs the city. Haern knows someone is behind the turmoil, pulling strings. If he doesn't find out who -- and soon -- his beloved city will burn.

Light or darkness: where will the line be drawn?

CLASSIFICATION: Featuring a world wherein there are multiple factions at work, the Shadowdance series is a dark, character-driven, gritty fantasy story in the vein of David Gemmell, Brent Weeks and Peter V. Brett.

FORMAT/INFO: A Dance Of Shadows is 437 pages divided over thirty-five numbered chapters with a prologue, epilogue and an author note. Narration is in the third person via several different point-of-views, both major and supporting characters, including the main protagonist Haern the Watcher, Alyssa Gemcroft, Zusa, Lord Victor Kane, Guild lord Thren Felhorn, Grayson of Mordeina, Antonil Deathmask, Nathaniel Gemcroft etc. A Dance Of Shadows is the fourth volume of the Shadowdance series.

This book was first self-published by the author under the title "Blood Of The Underworld". May 20, 2014 marks the trade paperback and e-book publication of A Dance Of Shadows via Orbit Books. Cover illustration is provided by Michael Frost and Gene Mollica.

ANALYSIS: As with the previous three books that have been self published by the author.  A Dance Of Shadows was previously reviewed here upon its release. This book is slightly different from its previous incarnation as "Blood Of The Underworld" and I'll try to highlight the non-spoilery changes as much as I can. A note of caution for readers, since this is book 4, there will be minor spoilers for the preceding titles so venture ahead only if you have read the previous books or if you don't mind spoilers.

David Dalglish’s previous books were a revelation for me as it introduced me to the author as well as his dynamic storytelling prowess. The series was supposed to focus on Haern’s origins and explore his need to become the person he is currently. It was a dark and unforgiving series that was tough on all of its characters, ruthless in character deaths and perhaps the author’s homage to  Batman's beginnings. The third book however didn’t complete the arc as set by the first book and the author has spoken a bit about it in this guest post.

The trappings of the first trilogy was that a son rebelled against his father’s wishes and that was the underpinning that powered the main character as well as galvanized the readers as they wanted to see how it would end. While the trilogy didn’t exactly end on that note, the current trilogy plays out to that very end. It also serves as a bridge between the Half-Orc series, the Shadowdance trilogy as well as the Paladin series. The main theater of action would be set in the city of Veldaren primarily and also focusing on other regions as per the story dictates. The book also aims to bring together all the characters and infuse the story to make it an explosive one.

The story begins the king of Veldaren receiving a letter of intent from Victor Kane, lord of a nearby region who wishes to accomplish a task that no one has attempted so far. He wishes to rid the city of all its thieves, murderers and other scum. To do so, he has brought his own private army and is ready to start his mission. Alyssa Gemcroft has recovered from the events of the city of Angelport nearly two years ago and she has learnt to be more cunning while also growing in her economic strength. She however is unprepared for a new surprise that awaits her in the mansion of a fellow trifect member. Zusa is resilient and has constantly been the pillar of support for Alyssa in many ways however she will have to face demons and problems from her past as well and this time it might just be enough to break her. Then there’s Thren Felhorn, the greatest and most feared guild lord who is still trying to regain his lost glory and lastly there’s the Widow who is going around on a killing spree motivated by reasons stranger than most men can fathom.

Thus begins the fourth volume of the Shadowdance series which attempts to fuse the character driven storyline of its preceding titles with the epic action and intrigue of the sequel Half-orc series. This powder-keg is all set to explode and explode it does, in a spectacularly brutal onslaught. The prologue opens with a riddle and a murder and then quickly the plot threads and characters are introduced with enough of a background presented for all new readers to get caught up adequately and for returning readers to whet their memories. The highlights of David’s previous books are spectacularly present, beginning with rapid pace of the story, multiple plot lines, intriguing characterization and sharp plot twists. There's also some strong ties to "Cloak & Spider" as Thren's past history comes into play and for readers who have read the prequel novella, will gain further insight about Grayson, Thren & their common love. 

The best part however, is the characterization beginning with Haern and his troubled past, this series is basically about the confrontation that has been ordained between Haern and his father. The seeds for the confrontation were laced in the first two books of the Shadowdance trilogy and it’s in this book can the reader see them coming to fruition. There’s also Alyssa, Zusa, Thren, Victor Kane and a few other characters who each have their own plans and work towards their own ends. The equally awesome part is that while the series is about the Watcher, in this book the focus is shared by many characters each of whom can be confidently considered as a compelling protagonist or antagonist (depending on how you view their story).

This multifaceted character approach makes this story come alive tremendously as the reader is kept guessing on all fronts and something is happening in each POV character thread to keep the plot tension high strung. In this regards, the plot confusion and the thriller aspect of the story really shine through. The pace of the book also seems to make the book more akin to a thriller and this is another plus point in regards to the book. I can’t say that this book has no drawbacks to it but for the type of story I like to read, it had everything; tense mystery, believable characterization, epic action and lastly a strong authorial grasp on the story. All of this along with the book’s humor that is present but in minute amounts and is character specific which makes this story a fantastic read. 

Lastly while this is book 4, newer readers should have no problems jumping in and picking up the story, and for the older, returning readers this book is a crossroads of all the three previously written series thereby giving them a big crossover high. The author has commented upon this aspect in the afterword and it shows in the book as we come across a wide array of characters that confabulate and conflict to give the readers a rousing tale. The plot threads come to a reasonable conclusion at the end of this book and the reader is left with a big hint of the story direction of the next book A Dance Of Ghosts.

CONCLUSION: David Dalglish is an anomaly of sorts, his books while seeming generic are turning out to be a unique combination of dark fantasy and exciting thriller modes, thereby giving the readers a potent story and making sure they are left wanting more. I was hooked with the previous trilogy and this one does more of the same in spades. If you truly wish to discover a fantastic new author, give this book a try or if you want, start with book I of the Shadowdance trilogy and experience the origin story as its unfolds epically.

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