Fantasy Review: ‘A Dance of Cloaks’ by David Dalglish

A Dance of Cloaks (Shadowdance, #1)

Update 10/4/13-  I received a copy of the now traditionally published version from NetGalley.  At the 40% mark I realized I had no desire to reread the whole book.  I checked my book marks from the old version and skipped around the new and didn’t find any major differences.  All the previous complaints were still there, as well as the things I liked the first time around.  (If my review includes details that have in fact been changed I will gladly change it).  Therefore my review from December (seen below) still stands. New cover, same book as far as I can tell. 

Review first published 12/28/12

‘A Dance of Cloaks’ takes place in a world where it appears well over a third of the population are trained as assassins, or are rich enough to afford them.   Also it would seem that every women is beautiful , though professions are limited to hot ninja assassin(breathtaking beauty a must) or prostitute.  Readers of ‘A Dance of Cloaks’ can expect more redheads than seem humanly possible, rapes and threats of rapes, and a murder rate that puts other GRIMDARK authors to shame.  In the first chapter alone we have an eight year old killing his older brother and a father throwing his daughter into a cold dungeon.  If one wants to know the gist of the review without reading it, no, I would not recommend this book to too many people, unless said people really, really like assassins.

And it is a real shame, the book has some potential.  Taking place within one large city, there is a type of class war brewing.  The Trifect, an alliance of the three richest men of the land are in practice ruling the city.  Standing against them are large gangs of thieves that are being united by Thren Felhorn, the most feared criminal and leader of the largest gang.  There is also a king who seems to have some power, but conveniently not enough to affect the first two groups, and a religious divide in which both sides want to influence but officially stay neutral.  When dealing with the scheming, counter scheming, leads and false leads, and espionage this book is downright interesting.  Anytime a character seems to have the upper hand something shifts.  Thren is built up as something almost invincible for a while, but even he shows flaws.  His son Aaron is an interesting character, though is personality conveniently fits whatever the author wants him to be at the moment, there is some inconsistency in his actions.  I also felt the book had a stronger than average conclusion, I was surprised by how non-clichéd it was in comparison to much of the book.
There was just so much in this book that didn’t work.  As much as the class war interested me, it didn’t pass the logic test.  The criminal guilds seemed to subsist solely on their thieving, which not only supported them but made them major powers.  There were some illusions to protection schemes in the mix, but no major prohibited substances that typically are the base of criminal organizations power base.  Just lots of fear and killing.  Not only were these ‘guilds’ stocked with vicious killers, every one of the killers was unbelievable deadly.  Thrown knifes never missed, usually put right in the throat or eye.  If one of these killers was a female, she was assuredly described as a beauty, with the worst offenders being the faceless, who were more  ninja from a video game than half-way realistic characters.
The book took a line from the Terry Goodkind guide of bad-guys, with rape being the main threat used on female characters.  An early scene in which a young heiress is about to endure her horror actually has her thinking about how she was going to change her life when she got a chance, not the attack at hand.  Toward the end of the book the narrative is still focused on her mistakes leading up to being kidnapped and attacked.
My last minor issue was with a drifting POV.  If as a reader I have spent a page following a character and knowing only their thoughts, it is problematic when for one paragraph I get thought bubbles from a second character, only to switch right back to the focus character.  It didn’t happen often, but I always noticed it.