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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

RE-REVIEW: A Dance of Mirrors 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 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 SYNOPSIS: One has conquered a city. The other covets an entire nation.

Haern is the King's Watcher, protector against thieves and nobles who would fill the night with blood. Yet hundreds of miles away, an assassin known as the Wraith has begun slaughtering those in power, leaving the symbol of the Watcher in mockery. When Haern travels south to confront this copycat, he finds a city ruled by the corrupt, the greedy and the dangerous. Rioters fill the streets, and the threat of war hangs over everything. To forge peace, Haern must confront the deadly Wraith, a killer who would shape the kingdom's future with the blade of his sword.

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

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 Mirrors is 400 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 Mirrors is the third volume in the Shadowdance series and it would be highly unadvisable to read this book before the previous two as it would reveal a significant amount about what has occured previously.

December 3, 2013 marked the trade paperback and e-book publication of A Dance of Mirrors by Orbit Books. Cover illustration is provided by Michael Frost and Gene Mollica

ANALYSIS: As with the last couple of books in the Shadowdance series, this is a re-review and will highlight the things that have been changed or added to the book. The author mentioned that this volume underwent a lot of changes including the title (which wasn't the case with its predecessors) and also that he made it a little less depressing. Read on to see how strong this book still is.

A Dance of Mirrors (previously titled 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. Someone 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 one of the teasers for last year’s film The Dark Knight Rises, there are a couple of scenes shown from the previous film and there’s a voice over 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’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 at least 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 this 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 it’s much more mayhem which claims further victims both intended and accidental. Zusa, 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 someone 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. The story twists all the way to the climax and the reader will be strung along trying to figure who is the mastermind behind it all. I enjoyed how the author further streamlined the story and removed some of the bleakness as well.

Plus with a slambang ending, the tale ends 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 in regards to Thren Felhorn and the guilds in Veldaren, but I’m hoping that those conflicts will be resolved in the remaining three books of this series.

CONCLUSION: A Dance of Mirrors is a fascinating look at what happens when a harsh light is shined on vigilante actions. Overall this book is almost as good as the second and definitely better than the first. I heartily recommend the entire Shadowdance series 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 Mirrors is another fascinating look at the perilous life of the Watcher.



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