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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

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

Official Author Website
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Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of A Dance Of Cloaks
Read Fantasy Book Critic interview with David Dalglish
Read Fantasy Book Critic cover art interview with David Dalglish 

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 BLURB: It's been five long years since the city learned to fear...

The war between the thief guilds and the powerful allegiance known as the Trifect has slowly dwindled. Now only the mysterious Haern is left to wage his private battle against the guilds in the guise of the Watcher - a vicious killer who knows no limits. But when the son of Alyssa Gemcroft, one of the three leaders of the Trifect, is believed murdered, the slaughter begins anew. Mercenaries flood the streets with one goal in mind: find and kill the Watcher.

Peace or destruction; every war must have its end.

CLASSIFICATION: Featuring a world wherein there are multiple factions at work, this book is a dark, character-driven, gritty fantasy novel in the vein of Jon Sprunk, Brent Weeks and Peter V. Brett.

FORMAT/INFO: A Dance of Blades is 407 pages divided over thirty-two numbered chapters and an 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, Veliana, Deathmask, Nathaniel Gemcroft, Arthur Hadfield, Oric, Ghost, etc. A Dance of Blades is self-contained, but is the second volume in the Shadowdance series after A Dance of Cloaks.

November 5, 2013 marked the trade paperback and e-book publication of A Dance of Blades via Orbit Books. Cover illustration is provided by Michael Frost and Gene Mollica.

ANALYSIS: As with my re-review of A Dance Of Cloaks, I'm attempting to do a similar thing with this one as this book has changed the least with only some minor text changes. I read this book more than two years ago and since then have absolutely loved this series. The story begins nearly five years since the events shown in “A Dance of Cloaks”. The city of Veldaren is slowly recovering from the catastrophic night in which the Guilds decided to remove the Trifect from the political equation. Unfortunately, things did not go as planned for Thren Felhorn because of the valor and dedication of a select few. Since then, the Guilds have fractured even further and now fight amongst themselves in an attempt to regain their earlier powers. The Trifect also suffers, but fares slightly better than their rivals. Complicating matters is a new addition to the city: the Watcher.

The Watcher calls himself Haern, and is the son of the most famous and devious guildlord (a secret known to no one). Using his former training, Haern’s goal is to sow dissent among the Guilds. Meanwhile, Alyssa Gemcroft, one of the leaders of the Trifect, has successfully taken over the Gemcroft estate and now has a son, Nathaniel, from her dalliance in the previous book. Serving Alyssa as her protector is Zusa, the ex-forsaken of Karak and also a confidante to Veliana. Veliana’s mission to save the Ash guild was successful, but she is now subservient to the new Guild master. Readers are also introduced to Deathmask, a character from The Half Orcs series, while Lord Arthur Hadfield and Mark Tullen try to obtain Alyssa Gemcroft’s hand in marriage.

The heart of the story unfolds when Haern comes across a devious plot to kill the child Nathaniel. Haern intervenes, but with chaotic results. Word soon spreads that the child is missing, presumably dead, so Alyssa in her grief decides to finish off the Guilds and kill the Watcher, who she believes are the guilty parties behind her son’s death. From here, A Dance of Blades follows Haern as he battles the Guilds, the Trifect, and perhaps his greatest enemy, an odd giant of a man who goes by the title of Ghost... 

Compared to A Dance of Cloaks, the prose in A Dance of Blades is remarkably more polished and a major highlight of the book. Pacing is similar to the first novel, meaning thrilling action sequences mingled with intriguing characters that reminded me of Paul S. Kemp and David Gemmell, but Dalglish has definitely turned up the excitement level. The story is more linear and streamlined than its predecessor, but there are still lots of machinations and subplots going on, while a deeper exploration of the world of Dezrel is provided. The grimness, which was so prevalent in the first book, has been toned down a bit, although plenty of killing can still be found in A Dance of Blades. Personally, I was glad for this as the author managed to surprise me a couple of times by killing off a certain character, while saving another. Thematically, salvation is a major theme, with many of the book’s characters seeking redemption, with both successful & unsuccessful results. 

Characterization remains top-notch giving readers a wide variety of characters to follow, including Haern with his psychological scars, Veliana with her toughness and never-say-die attitude, and Alyssa who now understands her father better than ever. What I love most about the characters is how they are all so unique and interesting, which is important in a book that features so many different POVs. Meanwhile, quite a few characters from The Half-Orcs series make an appearance in A Dance of Blades. With this book, there's a slight increase in the magic or paranormal nature of the world, of course in the previous book there were events and things happening that clarified that magic was present but with this volume, the author starts building it up even more starkly with the presence of Deathmask and his antics.

Negatively, Haern’s abilities and vigilante actions reminded me of Batman, which made some things in the book easy to predict. Also, because the Shadowdance series is a prequel to The Half-Orcs series, and features many of the same characters, those who have already finished the Half Orc books know who will survive and who won’t. For me, this is the single biggest flaw in reading any prequel series, which is why I have purposefully held off from reading The Half-Orcs novels.

CONCLUSION: Overall, A Dance of Blades is an excellent sequel, further establishing Haern’s story, while showcasing David Dalglish’s impressive growth as a writer. So now, after having fully enjoyed the first two books in the Shadowdance series, I can’t wait to read what happens next in Haern’s saga in the third book, A Dance of mirrors...



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