A Dance of Blades by David Dalglish
When I reviewed book one, Dance of Cloaks, I compared it to Brent Weeks’ Night Angel Trilogy, which seemed to be an obvious source of inspiration for Dalglish. As Night Angel developed it shifted from a story of smaller forces to one of an epic scale.
Dance of Blades instead functions much the same as the first of the series– assassins, plotting-through-marriage, and revelations of identity, without enough to be different beside the setup for book three.
Don’t get me wrong; the story is still fun and filled with action and intrigue to keep you hooked. The relationship between reader and characters is so strong that they practically beg you to keep turning the page and say “Just one more.”
It’s been five years since Thren’s failed attack on the Trifect. Haern has fully assumed the mantle of the Watcher, a killer of thieves that prowls the streets of Veldaren signing his name in the blood of his victims. Alyssa and Zusa have continued working together, Alyssa raising her child Nathaniel and Zusa her most loyal guard. Veliana has installed a puppet leader of the Ash Guild, but she finds her control of him is slipping just as a mysterious masked man named Deathmask comes looking to join.
Perhaps the greatest addition to the cast was Ghost, a mercenary from a land away. An ebony-skinned man who paints his face white (the source of his moniker), Ghost is a complex character that serves as the avatar of the theme of identity. While he is introduced as nothing more than a skilled killer, his is the character that gets the most development and reader attachment as his motives and origins become clear. Ghost’s reasoning behind adopting a new name and hiding his true visage with paint is strong for it’s complexity and made me stop to ponder the question of identity, a theme that initially began with Aaron/Haern in book one.
The biggest detracting point lay with Alyssa Gemcroft. It’s been five years since the plotting of book one where she was engaged to a man who didn’t love her and only wanted her title. Book two, unfortunately, is much of the same, only using her son has a chess piece instead of Alyssa’s affections. With a character that has inherited such tremendous wealth and is an acting leader of one of the Trifect families, Alyssa has amazing potential to be a powerful female lead in a male-dominated society. Put her past these surface-value conflicts that has more to do with winning her hand or controlling her through her feelings as a mother and give us a character to be proud of.
Dance of Blade neither dramatically succeeds nor fails. The plot, characterization, and events of this book echo too strongly with the first book to be considered anything more than a continuation of the first book’s plot. The first two books give the impression of a larger book that was divided, something that could have worked if not for the time gap and other hallmarks that divided the two.
I’m excited to continue with this multi-book epic and see what happens next. As much as I pushed against it, the “more of the same” structure hasn’t sullied the characters or series, if taken at face value. As a standalone title Dance of Blades would work fantastically, I’m just more hesitant at how well it manages as a second book.
Book three, Dance of Mirrors, is next and I’m eager and hopeful to see where Dalglish takes us this time. With any luck there will be a new threat to challenge our hero and favored characters that takes us away from the now well-worn path.