A Dance of Cloaks by David Dalglish
(*Small Spoilers – Reader BEWARE*)
More than anything else A Dance of Cloaks is novel that takes clear inspiration from authors such as Peter V. Brett and Brent Weeks and crafts a story that, like The Warded Man or The Way of Shadows, focuses on deep, personal character development.
While there is an array of characters that are the focus, it’s Aaron Felhorn who stands at the center. The youngest son to the master assassin and head of the Spider Guild, Thren Felhorn, Aaron has been trained since the age of 8 to be the perfect heir. He’s been forbidden two things: love and religion. Instead he’s been taught absolute obedience to his father, including murdering his older brother in cold blood early on in the book.
The plot focuses on Thren’s plans to unify the assassin guilds through force and end a war between the guilds and the Trifect, three families of great wealth and power (the Gemcrofts, Conningtons, and Keenans).
Meanwhile, Alyssa Gemcroft, heir to the Gemcroft’s, has to outmaneuver her betrothed, who cares only for her name and wealth. Joining her are the Faceless, three women that have been punished for their sins and wield shadow magic from their god Karak in order to help absolve them and perform the commands of their priests.
Dalglish handles the themes of religion with a deft hand, using an old fallback of a “dark” god against a “light” god. Karak, the “dark” god, is more prevalent in the series, we do get a glimpse at the workings of the priests of the god Ashhur towards the end. It’s an interesting plot point that will hopefully feature more prominently in forthcoming volumes, even if it’s just to see more dark paladins doing battle – which included some of the most interesting uses of the magic system and direct fight scenes in the book.
Through Kayla, Aaron discovers infatuation and love, and through an elderly tutor, Robert Haern, he eventually finds religion. These ideologies infect Thren’s perfect heir and soon Aaron begins questioning everything his life has meant until this point. These feelings boil over after he chooses to protect a priest’s daughter and betray his father by not assassinating her.
It’s at this point that the book really shines as Aaron’s internal struggle between remaining loyal and obedient to his father and what he believes to be right and fair fight for dominance in his psyche.
Following a life-altering moment Aaron dons a mask, a move that’s used to hide his identity from other’s in the guild as well as to help him mentally differentiate between another identity. Aaron’s use of a mask and alternate identity is evocative of an almost superhero alter-ego and it’ll be curious to see how this will play out in following books as Aaron forges a place for himself rather than the one his father had planned.
Following in the steps of other authors, notably G.R.R. Martin, from whom Dalglish has said he was inspired, A Dance of Cloaks does feature a number of characters and POVs that keep you bouncing from character to character when all you want to read is more on Aaron and Thren. While this switching does need a touch more work to be as seamless and engaging as possible, Dalglish does an admirable job and the pacing remains excellent throughout.
David Dalglish is one of those few authors who chose to self-publish his novels and has since gotten a book deal due to the success of his series. The first four books in the series have already been digitally published and now Orbit will release each book in consecutive months, the sequels to A Dance of Cloakscoming in November and December. A move that’s reminiscent of another series from Orbit, Brent Weeks Night Angel Trilogy, which were released in October, November, and December of 2008.
Dalglish is well on his way to join the ranks of Peter V. Brett and Brent Weeks as influential authors in a new generation of fantasy. Who knows, maybe in another few years The Shadowdance Trilogy will be the inspiration of a new author looking to breakout.