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Friday, October 21, 2011

A Dance of Death by David Dalglish with Bonus Q/A with the Author (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

AUTHOR INFORMATION: David Dalglish graduated from Missouri Southern State University with a degree in Mathematics. He is the author of the popular Half Orcs fantasy series which includes The Weight of Blood, The Cost of Betrayal, The Death of Promises, The Shadows of Grace and A Sliver of Redemption. He is currently writing the Shadowdance trilogy and The Paladins series.

OFFICIAL SYNOPSIS: We are the ones who own the night. We are the ones with blood on our hands. We are the reapers, the demons, the dark shadows wielding steel. We will not be denied our vengeance.”

Haern is the King's Watcher, protector against thieves and nobles who might fill the night with blood. Yet hundreds of miles away, an assassin known as the Wraith has begun slaughtering those in power, and leaving the symbol of the Watcher in mockery. When Haern travels south to confront his copycat killer, he finds a city ruled by the corrupt, the greedy, and the dangerous. Rioters fill the streets, and the threat of war with the mysterious elves hangs over all. To stop it, he must confront the deadly Wraith, and the man he might become.

Man or God; what happens when the lines are blurred?

CLASSIFICATION: Featuring a world where there are multiple factions at work, the Shadowdance trilogy is a dark, gritty, character-driven fantasy series in the vein of George R.R. Martin, Brent Weeks and Peter V. Brett.

FORMAT/INFO: A Dance of Death is 348 pages divided over twenty-seven numbered chapters with a prologue and epilogue. 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, Ulrich Blackwater, Lord Ingram Murbrand, Lady Madelyn Keenan, Princess Laryssa, Torgar etc. A Dance of Death is the third volume in the Shadowdance trilogy after A Dance of Cloaks and A Dance of Blades. The trilogy itself is set in the same world as The Half-Orcs, but before the events of that series with mild and major spoilers contained within. It would be highly unadvisable to read this book before the previous two as it would reveal a significant amount about what happened previously.

October 20, 2011 marked the independent publication of A Dance of Death in E-book format. Cover art is provided by Peter Ortiz.

ANALYSIS: I was introduced to David Dalglish’s writing when I read the previous two books in the Shadowdance trilogy earlier this year. I was completely blown away by those two titles and with his dark gritty characterization as well as excellent action sequences, the author had completely won me over and so my expectations were sky high for the final chapter of the Watcher’s story.

A Dance of Death begins two years after the events where the Watcher ascended to his position and brokered a peace between the thief guilds and the Trifect. It’s a fragile peace however things are still kept in control by Haern and his ruthless vigilantism. This time around though things start to take a unholy turn in the coastal city of Angelport, wherein Laurie Keenan, the third lord of the Trifect resides. Some one called the Wraith is going around killing people and this time Laurie Keenan feels the Wraith's wrath and while the Wraith completes the kill and leaves the Watcher’s mark. Things take an uneven turn as Alyssa Gemcroft decides to investigate the matter and help her fellow Trifect member who’s been besieged in the city by the Merchants brethren and Lord Ingram who is the so-called ruler of the city. To add to this mix is the city’s continual fight with the Elves over the allocation of nearby forest land and all of it just becomes a powder keg ready to ignite with the arrival of the Watcher.

In a recent teaser for next year’s film The Dark Knight Rises, there are a couple of scenes shown from the previous film and there’s a voiceover by Liam Neeson repeating his words from the first film:
If you make yourself more than just a man
If you devote yourself to an ideal
Then you become something else entirely … a legend, Mr. Wayne, a legend!

I think these lines are very crucial to the Batman persona and conveniently fit Haern’s Psyche almost as well. Haern’s actions over the previous books have made him seem more than just a human being. The Thief guilds as well as the Trifect fear and respect him, his actions though scary, have established a peace of sorts in the city of Veldaren. However in Angelport someone has decided to ape him and take his methods a step further. That’s the question raised in this story. How do you stop someone who claims to be following your ideals and makes you out to be everything that you fought against? This question haunts Haern throughout the plot and makes for a great read as the author doesn’t provide any clear cut answer but gives pointers for the readers to form their own opinions. I very much enjoyed this introspective look into Haern’s actions.

Following the past two books, the author has increased the intrigue and machinations in this one, with there being atleast four different parties who are involved and each scheming to get their own demands and objectives. Each faction is vicious and with way more means than Haern, Alyssa and Zusa who find themselves in a new city and without their regular means. This book takes a step in a new direction as it visibly shifts the locale to the city of Angelport, this was a very surprising move on the author’s part as with the last two books being set in Veldaren, it seemed sure that the last tale would be set there as well however this is the first of the many surprises laced in the story along with the new cast of characters who are more treacherous, shady and powerful.

The action sequences are a particular highlight of David’s writing and he doesn’t disappoint in this one, choc-a-bloc with violence and action that is fast, brutal and has far reaching consequences. The best part of the story is that its pace never slackens and all the twists keep the reader guessing as to who and what is behind all the chaos. The book begins with a murder and from thereon its much more mayhem which almost never stops. Zusa and Haern along with Alyssa go through a physical and emotional wringing of sorts and in this the author has to be lauded for never refusing to make his characters jump through hoops or even killing them off in quite drastic manners.

This book’s theme could be that no matter how good you are, there’s always some one better and sometimes no matter what one does, shit happens! The world of Neldar is pretty dark to begin with but the city of Angelport stoops to a further low with its morass of misery, avarice and treachery. No one can be fully trusted and this is a lesson which the main characters learn a bit too late for their comfort. Plus with a slambang ending, the book ends the trilogy on a bittersweet note however it still has some faults. Readers will have to let go of their sensibilities when it comes to the main character’s physical institution as Haern does things which defy explanation but in the context of the story and the world, can certainly be overlooked. Lastly there are a couple of plot-threads which are left hanging, but I’m hoping since this was a prequel story, they might be addressed in the Half Orc series wherein Haern was a minor but important character.

CONCLUSION: A Dance of Death stays true to its name and closes out an excellent trilogy. Overall this book is almost as good as the second and definitely better than the first. I heartily recommend the entire Shadowdance trilogy to all lovers of dark, action packed fantasy stories. Just be warned that the author is a fan of George R.R. Martin and he follows his hero’s path of scalding the main characters like no other. A Dance of Death brings to an end to a fascinating look at the life of the Watcher.

BONUS Q/A with David Dalglish

Q] Welcome back to Fantasy Book Critic, since your last appearance there have been certain tumultuous events occurring in the world of publishing lead by Barry Eisler and Amanda Hocking, your thoughts on these events and what do you feel about traditional publishing and its future?

A) I don’t know Barry Eisler too well, but I’m fairly good friends with Amanda, and I know she made the right decision for her situation. There are a few problems inherent with self-publishing, and you have to have the mindset of a businessman half the time. I don’t think traditional publishing is going anywhere (though I do think a lot of changes are in store, with those embracing digital books far more likely to thrive). The only thing I know for certain, and thankfully managed to predict, was that the Kindle would be huge. Other than that, I don’t have a clue what the next five years will bring, and beware those who think they do.

Q] "The Shadowdance trilogy" is your second completed series. Was writing the second series harder, easier or about the same compared to writing the first one?

A) This was far more difficult. With the Half-Orcs, the finale was something I had in my head for over two years. I’d been looking forward to various scenes for what felt like forever. With Shadowdance, I was entering each book in the dark, not even pretending to know where each story would end. It’s led to a lot of frustrations, and the occasional false start, but the final result tends to be a bit more chaotic and unpredictable, which readers seem to enjoy.

Q] With respect to cover art, the first two books had faceless women on it. What was the reason for Haern’s presence in the third thereby breaking the pattern?

A) A Dance of Death is actually the seventh book of mine featuring Haern, three of which he is the main character. Yet I still hadn’t found a way to put him on the cover of one, even though others of mine were on two or three. So in this last series, in a trilogy dedicated to him, I had to find a way. And the pattern isn’t *completely* broken. Zusa’s still on the cover. She’s just...uh, wounded. Or dead! I ain’t saying which.

Q] Even though your series embraces a number of fantasy tropes (assassins, thieves, feudal infighting), you also have made a rather strong effort to twist reader expectations and keep them entertained. What are your thoughts on fantasy tropes in general and how did you decide what tropes you wanted to utilize, to entice the reader?

A) For me, the fantastical world is the setting, and just that. I’m not expecting to wow anyone with my world building. There are writers who can do that, some of whom I adore, but that isn’t me. My stories are focused on characters and conflicts, a lot of which I could, honestly, rewrite in a sci-fi setting, or modern day setting, and have to change very little. So what do I want to use? What I think is awesome. What do I not want to use? What bores me. That’s really it.

For Half-Orcs, it is orcs, elves, undead, and giant fiery explosions of magic. Anyone who has played D&D or World of Warcraft should feel right at home. With Shadowdance, I toned it down. With Paladins, I’m somewhere in the middle. At no point, though, do I expect the sheer fact that “ooh, look, big army of strange somethings!” to try to carry the story. It’s always, always the characters.

Q] In your most recent book A Dance of Death, was it your purpose from the start to end the tale the way you did. Was this the ending you had planned when you first envisioned writing about Haern? Also when you decided to make it a trilogy what were you aiming for in regards to the end of this story?

A) When I decided to make this a trilogy, book two was pretty much already formed in my head. Things always change when I write it, but for the most part, I have an idea of where I want to go, the few major events that will define it, and then everything else falls together. Book three? Not a clue. It took a lot of lengthy conversations with friends I trust, and have read all my books, to really decide where to take it.

The first two books develop Haern as this vigilante protector, show how he became who he is. This last book, I wanted to analyze what it is he had become. I wanted to know what made him special, what set him apart from all the others running about killing in the night. And I did so by creating a character who was a natural evolution to the identity Haern had created, and then pitting them against each other.

Q] Speaking of research, I’m curious about how you approach a new novel. For example, do you start from scratch when you’re working on a new book or do you have a pile of ideas that you can choose from when you’re deciding what to write next?

A) I’m a seat-of-your-pants type of writer. For each book, I generally sit down with a single sheet of paper and a pen, and then write out the entire plotline in a single go on one side (to keep me from over-plotting. This helps connect the characters, and give me a set path to follow.) Once I do this, I freely disregard anything in the outline that might hamper the natural flow of the story. Nearly every story, I kill someone who was supposed to live, and let live someone who was supposed to die. A Dance of Death was no different.

Q] Just for fun though, If your books do get adapted for the visual medium, whom would you want to portray Haern, could you also give us some choices for the other characters as well and who would you want involved with the adaptation?

A) Haern would be played by a non-bulked up Chris Hemsworth. For Zusa...Catherine Zeta Jones. That’d be awesome. And honestly, I’d be so stupidly excited by a movie made of any of my stories. It could be some lousy interpretation on the Syfy channel and I’d still have all my friends over to watch and have a ball.

Q] What’s next for you in terms of the world of Dezrel & other new projects? Can you tell us anything about the book which you are currently writing?

A) Next up is the third book of the Paladins, which so far has eluded me in terms of a title. The whole thing will focus on the dark paladin Darius, his attempts at redemption, and everyone else’s attempts to kill him in brutal ways.


Red Tash said...

You'd honestly let them make a movie on Syfy of your stuff? C'mon. That shiz is bananas.

Great interview, love the cover of the new book. I really had to look at it and decide if it were blood, or what.

Off to add yet another Dalglish title to the TBR list!

Brasil said...

Great end to the trilogy. It's been a thrilling story, I'm so glad too have learned more about Haern. I thought having the setting in Angelport was a nice twist, it made the series fresh. The Wraith was a great idea by the author, giving Haern someone who could take him on and even beat him. It made the story uncertain because you didn't know if Haern would win, like he always does, when the Wraith was around.


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