A Dance of Blades by David Dalglish

“’Stay with me,’ he said. ‘I bled for you. Least you could do is survive.’”

I regret to say that Grimdark is beginning to lose its luster. I have nothing wrong with delving into the familiar territory of gritty, medieval fantasy, but if the strain continues like David Dalglish’s Shadowdance series, I might have to grow a tad cynical.

A Dance of Cloaks, I hate to say also, was rated higher than it should have been. I state this because we get roughly the same in Dalglish’s second book, A Dance of Blades, save a tighter prose yet weaker plot.

Five years have passed since the ending of the first book, and Haern, or Aaron Felhorn, has grown in resolve, deciding to wage a personal war on the thieves and criminals his father uses to destroy the city of Veldaren. While on the flipside of this battle, a masked man enters the picture, motives as cloudy as his magic. He wishes to assume power over a failing guild with the help of a woman trying to cling to the past. And a kid becomes tension by the blurb alone, even if it is misleading. Let’s not forget the obligatory “strong” woman doing her best to ignite revenge where peace has existed.

Thus begins the tale of how people die for no reason, no empathetic connection, if only to shock the reader and continue the plot. But some don’t die when they should. It’s why you should always tie up loose threads immediately. However, this is all for plot progression.

Truth be told, the only thing better in this book is the writing. It’s sharper, with less POVs jumping around like a mad frog in heat. The pacing is faster, and we get to see a little more of the world, even if it’s simply the countryside.

And that’s where my positivity stops.

“She was playing a game against an opponent she knew nothing about. Such was a sure path toward losing.”

I’ll throw out the ridiculous first: Cloakdances are utterly stupid. I don’t understand how twirling around will hide you from your enemy. Reminds me of a drunk at Comicon. About as infuriating as the ellipses.

The plot was about as much as I expected from a Dalglish book, which is to say top-notch, save the unfulfilled ending. No, my biggest qualm was not the lack of depth or the missing originality; it was with the characters.

When you have a guy call himself “Deathmask,” you lose all credibility. “Ghost” I can understand. Enigmatic death hidden by a shroud? No.

“’He calls himself Ghost. I’m not brave enough to tell him to pick something more original.’”

And speaking about a terror (Ghost) Dalglish manages to create an amazing and perfectly reasonable character explanation and make it race-baiting. The color of a character shouldn’t matter. Isolation is used all too much, and Dalglish had already established that he was alone in ferocity and ability. But to make him vulnerable because of the color of his skin was weak. Didn’t work.

The villain of this tale (of which there is many) is made out to be plain, non-magical, simply power-hungry. That made him remarkable and different from most, that is, until his plan failed, and he decided to remove the idea of wrapping up loose ends no matter what the cost. This hurt him in the long run, especially when he was surrounded by incompetence. John Gandrem, who we see only near the end, is the true threat, I would say. He’s loads smarter than Hadfield. But then, that’s not saying much.

Thren, though, is lacking throughout. I understand the reasoning behind it, the man at the fringes seeding havoc in lands without mercy. I thought it was well done, but the scene with him was a little flat. The man we saw in A Dance of Cloaks is so far removed in this one it’s not even funny. As I said, it works, I just don’t like it.

Lady Gemcroft, who could’ve been cold and the real monster (plot twist!) ends up weak and ruled by her emotions. I would’ve rather seen her legacy destroyed by her idiotic actions than the happy ending we’re presented.

Haern appears to be the only sensible one of the main cast, and his scenes outside the wall of Veldaren was some of the best of the book. Finally do we get a glimpse of the outside world in a man coming into his own. It’s a nice idea, his pursuit beginning in the wildlands and continuing on in his heart.

But as I say this, I have to head back to the ending.

It was horrible; build-up vanished to nowhere because Dalglish wanted to pull out character when the book needs a wrapped up plot, both visible and said. He tries to tie in a title that should be official and is never given. I believe Dalglish’s biggest problem with this series is that it’s a prelude, going in a direction I don’t like. You can’t substitute depth and further understanding in other books. You have to wrap up everything nicely. Or at least to a point.

He didn’t.

Chicken fat gives flavor. Without it, you get a dried out piece of meat. That’s what A Dance of Blades essentially is.

*I was given this ARC for my honest review.*

Rating: 6/10

Amazon US: A Dance of Blades (Shadowdance)

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