Rating: 5 out of 5
I love David Dalglish’s books. There, I said it. Everything he’s put out I’ve devoured and raved about. From Weight of Blood, the introduction to his Half-Orcs series, to his new Paladins adventures, each story builds upon the next, further enhancing and enriching the world he’s created and presenting new conspiracies, enemies, and themes.
Now we come to A Dance of Death, the climactic work of the Shadowdance series – which, strangely enough, are really stand-alone novels masquerading as a series. And I will now say, as I seem to after virtually every Dalglish book, that he’s once more raised the bar, making this reviewer swoon, sway, and cheer with each swing of the sword (or thrust of the dagger).
This time around, we find Haern, fully entrenched in his role as King’s Watcher, being led out of Velderan by a copycat killer in the town of Angelport, miles away from home. This mimic kills seemingly indiscriminately, leaving behind Haern’s old calling card, the bloody, traced eye, one he hasn’t used in years.
Haern, along with Alyssa and Zusa, head south. There are other bad things going on in Angelport – a fight with the elves over the woodlands, the proliferation of a new, powerful drug that is spreading through the streets, and the infighting between the merchant lords, who own the boats, and the lord of the land, who is slowly losing control of everything. Into this mix is thrown the Wraith, Haern’s much-too-talented, unwanted protégé, which pitches everything into a great big smorgasbord of murder, conspiracy, deceit, and political intrigue that brings the city to the brink of war – both with the elves and amongst themselves.
For the first time, Dalglish introduces a plot that is truly mysterious and isn’t concluded until the very end. While all of his books possess tremendous character development – and are usually carried by it – this one actually uses the plot itself, the mystery, to drive the story forward, using the previously stated character development to enhance the story, making the characters come to even more life than they already are. We understand Alyssa’s doubt, Zusa’s anger, Haern’s guilt, because each step of the way we’re shown why they feel what they’re feeling.
And they aren’t the only characters spotlighted here. We’re also reintroduced to Torgar, from way back in book one, who serves as the master of the guard for the Keenans, the Trifect members who reside in Angelport. We also get further insight into Madelyn Keenan’s character, who, let’s just say, is one of my favorites in the whole book, maybe the whole series. We also get inside the head of the Wraith, this mirror of a creation whose goals and actions don’t quite match up.
This is a book filled – and I mean filled – with meaning and thematic exploration. Everything from drug trafficking to environmental preservation to the question of how far is too far when it comes to the use of violence in making the world a better place are explored. Haern, for his part, is left to question his own motivations, to doubt his every action. He’s presented with a man much like himself, one that kills ostensibly at random, with no thought given to whether his victims deserve their fate or not. All of which leads Haern to wonder, what makes me so much better than him?
Because of this fact, there are no true heroes in A Dance of Death. What we cheer for when we read are incomplete people – in other words, fantasy representations of actual, real people experiencing the type of trauma – gang violence, drug dealers, vigilantism – that are found in any city across the world. All of which makes me repeat something I’ve said many times before: David Dalglish is not a fantasy author. He’s an author, period; one whose words would mean just as much if they were set in Chicago or Paris or Los Angeles as they do in Velderan…or Angelport.
The bottom line is this: A Dance of Death is a great, great read, a much more than worthy offering to close out a fantastic series. The characters are great, the story even better, and it has enough twists to make your head spin. We even get to see elves portrayed being not-so-elflike – you know wise and mystical and peaceful and all that – which I absolutely loved. There is heartbreak and anger, betrayal and gut-wrenching decisions, as well as some rather inspired deaths. I heartily recommend it, as I would all of the author’s books, and can honestly say I hope he gives us more of Haern’s story in the future, because there has to be more to tell.
Yeah, this is pretty much the perfect novel. You won’t be disappointed. And if you are, that’s on you, not the work.
If you want to read this fantastic work for yourself, buy them in Ebook format at the following sellers: