Published: October 8th 2013 by Orbit Books
Format: Paperback, 448 pages
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Thren Felhorn is the greatest assassin of his time. Marshalling the thieves’ guilds under his control, he declares war against the Trifect, an allegiance of wealthy and powerful nobles.
Aaron Felhorn has been groomed since birth to be Thren’s heir. Sent to kill the daughter of a priest, Aaron instead risks his own life to protect her from the wrath of his guild. In doing so, he glimpses a world beyond poison, daggers, and the iron control of his father.
Guilds twist and turn, trading allegiances for survival. The Trifect weakens, its reputation broken, its money dwindling. The players take sides as the war nears its end, and Thren puts in motion a plan to execute hundreds.
Only Aaron can stop the massacre and protect those he loves…
Assassin or protector; every choice has its consequences.
Inspired in part by the great George R. R. Martin and the incredible Brent Weeks, the first book of David Dalglish’s Shadowdance series is a page-turner, make no mistake! Though never lacking in action, blood, torture and political intrigue (all the things I love), I found the character development a tad lacking in A Dance of Cloaks, and look forward to more rounded sequels.
Thren Felhorn controls the Spider Guild – he’s a powerful man who specialises in assassination, theft, and other unsavoury things. His son and heir is Aaron – an extremely talented boy who killed his first man at the age of eight. However, Aaron’s reputation as a cold ruthless killer is hardly deserved, in my opinion: he’s only thirteen and his character fluctuates alarmingly between acting like a naïve teen and like a man twice his age. I couldn’t really pin him down, but he’s nothing like Kyler Stern and I didn’t believe him to be as dangerous as claimed. Aaron is no doubt a troubled child, and skilled in the art of killing, but he failed to impress me as Kayla and Thren did.
The large cast of characters prevents readers from getting too close to anybody, but I think we get to know those closest to Aaron well. I enjoyed Kayla’s scenes, and Senke balances out Thren’s inner circle well. I would like to know a lot more about the priests of Karak,, and the faceless warriors. The members of the Trifect their mansions and families blended together for me: they are an amorphous blob of spoilt, wealthy people trying to take on the guilds. Similarly, the other thief guilds failed to make an impression (although Veliana is awesome).
The plot of the novel is suitably engaging and convoluted: plans within plans, betrayals masking even larger betrayals. I found myself never wanting to stop reading (indeed, it’s difficult to find a place to naturally stop reading, and perhaps sleep, grab a bite to eat … go to work …), and I marvelled at the break-neck pace of the story. The author handles multiple points of view remarkably well, keeping the book interesting and the action flowing. I feel everything tied together very well, but I was a bit confused over what happened during the climactic scenes – I found it hard to keep track of who was where, doing what, and betraying whom.
I found the world-building commendable, if a little too constricted for my liking. The book never progresses outside the confines of Veldaren, the city the thief guilds are based in (which is natural) but I would have liked to get a better sense of the world I was reading about. There are tantalising hints at elves and other creatures inhabiting the world, and a lovely map is provided at the beginning, so I am hopeful that further books in the series will allow readers to experience, what seems to be, a fully formed world. I think this would be a non-issue for readers coming to this series after reading the author’s’ other work, the Half-Orcs series, which is set in the same world, but I confess myself a tad disappointed. Only a very little.
I’ve been going back and forth on whether to include this in my review, but it won’t do me any good to keep quiet about it, so here goes: while featuring a few female roles, all varied and mostly likeable, there is one character who I utterly failed to understand. View Spoiler »Alyssa comments that she doesn’t blame men for staring at her state of undress when she enters a camp, which made me worry. It’s one thing to say she hadn’t expected anything else, and another to say that she didn’t blame the men for doing so. However, it’s her musing that she deserves the physical and sexual abuses she’s enduring at the hands of her lover that made me severely uncomfortable. Alyssa thinks that her betrayal of her father has earnt her this punishment, and her attitude had me questioning what the author was trying to do with this character. I’m not suggesting that the author subscribes to this view, it’s just that I have a hard time believing that any woman would naturally think herself deserving of those abuses. Alyssa’s sense of self-worth is strong in the early in the book, and I fail to see why acknowledgement of her lover’s betrayal would prompt this way of thinking. « Hide Spoiler
A Dance of Cloaks is well worth a read, and although I was initially attracted to it because of the cover (OK, so I love my assassin novels and pretty covers, so what?) I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the series. Having previously self-published his books, David Dalglish already has a horde of fans, but I foresee that the rapid publication of the first four books in the Shadowdance series by Orbit will see him gain many new ardent fans, myself included.