Rating: 5 out of 5
It’s nice when you find an author whose work you adore. When this happens, you gleefully anticipate each coming release, and dive into every volume without the “I hope this doesn’t suck” feeling that can come about when opening a virtual unknown.
Luckily for me, I’ve found a couple new favorites over the last few months. At the top of that list is David Dalglish, he of the half-orc series I’ve been raving about on this site (and others) since I first opened “Weight of Blood”. Now from mister Dalglish, comes “A Dance of Cloaks”, a prequel of sorts to his best-selling series. (Which, by the way, you need not read in order to enjoy this tome. It works perfectly as a stand-alone.)
This novel is in many ways a wondrous oddity – as most of the author’s books are. It is set in a fantasy world, and yet the story it tells is real world appropriate. In fact, I would hasten to call this a fantasy novel at all. A more befitting description would go as follows:
“A Dance of Cloaks is what you would get if Mario Puzo #1) knew how to write, and #2) constructed The Godfather to take place in a land of swords, spears, and magic rather than New York and Sicily.”
The plot follows a standard gangland trope: young child, son of powerful mafia (in this case, thief guild) boss is groomed to take over a position he’s not sure he wants; inner turmoil, scheming, and conflict ensue. In this case, the son is Aaron Felhorn, whose father, Thren, is the legendary (and brutal) leader of the Spider Guild.
Again, as with gangland tales, there is a war going between the different Thief Guilds and the Trifect (this world’s version of the corporate elite). The war is fought the way urban gang wars always are – through subterfuge, theft, and plain, old-fashioned assassination. The fighting has stretched out for years, draining the resources of all involved. And now Thren, being the brutally efficient power-mongerer that he is, has come up with a sweeping plan to end this conflict once and for all and win himself (and his eventual successor) a legacy that will be whispered about for centuries.
There are many plot twists in this book, as to be expected, and a ton of characters, each with plans and schemes of their own. It forms a convoluted mess of intrigue and double-dealings, all of which are satisfying in the end. It’s difficult to write from so many viewpoints, remain true to their makeup, and keep the reader invested, but Dalglish pulls it off big time here. Each character has a distinct voice, and their actions make sense to their construction.
However, with all that said, this book is much, much more than a straight-ahead tale of gangs and duplicitous characters. The emotional depth is amazing, and for this we have two characters to thank – little Aaron, and his teacher, an old man named Robert Haern.
The interplay between these two is so well done. Haern is a man who’s trained many men, including the king, himself. He is brought in by Thren to inspire the greatness that being the heir of the Spider Guild leader requires. His instructional method is minimalistic and intellectual, and he immediately draws in the quiet and reclusive Aaron, who is the type of son who will do anything just to please his father. Their interplay is so convincing that, even though they have a very short time together in the beginning and Aaron becomes immediately attached to this strange old man, it is completely believable. Haern is the first person that treats the younger Felhorn as an equal, after all, and the only one that listens. Think back to your own childhoods. When was the first time you felt a strong connection to a parental figure? Most likely, it will be a circumstance much like one I just described.
Thren gets more than he bargained for, though, because Haern shows Aaron how to think – and any time a youngster learns the power of their own mind, they’re going to go off and try to find their way on their own. Thren wants his son cold, hard, and merciless. What the old teacher gives him is a child who makes his own opinions and develops his own sense of right and wrong.
This is where the story moves from intriguing to heartbreaking. There are two main points here – one unique to Aaron, the other not. The first point is the loss of childhood. Aaron is forced to grow up way too quick, made to observe and take part in vicious acts that no thirteen-year-old (or younger: he commits the murder of a member of his own family at age 8) should ever have to. In doing this, he is stripped of his innocence and made to become a man before his time. He ends up handling it quite well, but there is a subversive sadness that flows beneath the words, telling us how unfortunate it is that this bright and solitary child has had the weight of such horrors thrust upon his shoulders.
The second theme, and one that I found just as interesting, was the running premise of how dangerous family can be when it’s rife with dysfunction. Every character – and I mean every one – has daddy issues of one sort or another. It intrigued me greatly, and demonstrated the consistency of the author. All of his books are, deep down, tales of overcoming circumstances that aren’t the characters’ fault, be it from abuse, rape, neglect, arrogance, or abandonment (or all of the above) by their parental figures. It helps make the circumstances real, make them matter, and draws you closer to the characters than most books. For example, Stephen King is one of my favorite writers of all time. Of all his books, the only one whose emotional weight I still feel today is Bag of Bones. When it comes to Dalglish, I now have two novels that will stick with me forever. That’s an achievement, folks. A HUGE one.
A Dance of Cloaks is a wonderful book. It can be rough to read at times, and confusing at others, but in the end, you realize that all the confusion, all the clutter, had a purpose, and that purpose pays off. In fact, this is my favorite work by the author, and fully deserves its perfect score. The only other book I’ve given that to recently was Cost of Betrayal, again by Mr. Dalglish. Now, Cost is still the slightly better book, but being as gut-wrenching and painful as it is, it isn’t something I’ll read over and over. This one, however, I will be, which is why I say favorite.
Go out and buy this book, folks. Go out and make this author a huge success. His talent for storytelling is, to me, second-to-none. You won’t find many better than this, and once you reach the end, you’ll shudder with anticipation for the second book to come out.
Yes, it gets one huge recommendation from this reviewer.
Plot - 10
Characters - 10
Voice - 10
Execution - 10
Personal Enjoyment – 10
Overall – 50/50 (5/5)
Purchase A Dance of Cloaks in the following formats:
Ebook for Kindle