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Book Review: Shadow Dance by John Harrison

March 21, 2013




Genre: Fantasy

Re-cap: Shadow Dance introduces us to Namir, a young man who's parents were murdered on a secret mission. He was raised by his begrudging Uncle Daffer along with his cousin Jaconis, a rather snotty little brat! They grew up in the small town of Ellsted and each has the opportunity to get out of this small town by representing the town on an envoy to Hornshir. Each has a different reason for wanting to go. Namir's parents were killed on their way to Hornshir. Namir wants to go to find out what happened to them. Jaconis wants the prestige of being an emissary of Ellsted, the power to negotiate for the businessmen of Ellstead, and the popularity that may get him a seat on the town council should he succeed his mission. Mostly, I think he just wants to make sure Namir doesn't get any of these things. 

Namir gets the leadership position, but Jaconis gets to go as the envoy for the businessmen, along with several of Namir's friends: Aves, the Mayors daughter, and her maidservant and best friend Hessa. Stoic Nurn, the blacksmith's son,  and his younger brother Halin. Their adventure may give all of them more than they ever bargained for. 



The Good: The author jumps straight into the action with a secret mission, and then the loss of Namir's parents. Then we get caught up in the boy's struggle to see who will be the emissary of Ellstead (you have to admit, it has a really fun ring to it!) which seems to be a typical almost sibling rivalry-type thing, but escalates quickly (at least on one side of the struggle). 

The book has fifty different subplots going at any given time, and all are woven so neatly throughout the main story line that although you are left thinking "What the.... where did this come from?!?!?" it isn't in a bad way, if you know what I mean. None of the story felt forced, or contrived, though at times it was confusing. The nice part about that confusion (which I personally enjoy, when done right) is that the author meticulously brought each subplot to a crescendo in close order, leading to a higher climax, then closed each open-ended subplot save one as he wrapped up the story. Nice play for keeping people interested in a sequel. Then he did something really sneaky, and in the epilogue reveals the ultimate of red herrings!


*Spoiler Alert* 

Someone you thought was a good guy all along, appears to maybe be playing for the other team!



The Bad: As is common with fantasy, it took a bit of time getting all the different characters straight in my head. You get unusual names, some that are similar to the others, and a fast introduction, and it can be a bit difficult to keep everyone straight.

The author made a very strong effort at giving the "old" quality style to his writing without going all King James biblical Thee's and Thous EVERYWHERE, but on occasions the sentence structure was awkward and unwieldy. I never lost the meaning of the sentences (which frequently happens with a lot of indie writers), but it does cause the story to lose momentum. And about half-way through the book, the editing goes way down hill. (I suspect he got so caught up in his story, that he missed the errors, happens to me all the time!)



The Ugly: I had to pull out my dictionary on more than a few occasions. Now some of you may be thinking, "What, it is a crime to use big words in literature?!" Absolutely not! I am a big fan of educating my readers. I have quite a verbose vocabulary (even though I don't always use it.) and often enjoyed his rich use of words. But when I hit one that I did not actually know the meaning of, I realized a flaw in his writing. I could not use my exceptional context skills to grasp the meaning of the word! I really and absolutely had no idea what the word meant, and thereby what was happening in the scene. I had to go to the dictionary. 

This is hard for authors, because you don't always know what words your audience will be familiar with and which words don't work. At the same time, you do not want to spend the whole book repeating things to give context clues to the definitions of words. Lazy authors will dumb down their work, so I applaud this author for not doing that, but this is a point where it probably would have helped to have beta readers for the age-range you are targeting. 

And finally, there was a lot of repetition, without real need. Repetition is a great tool to authors, to drive home a point, to indicate significance, or even to display humor, or terror. But that was not the case in this story. There were several times where a character repeated a whole story to another group of characters without adding any significant details to the story. More annoyingly is when (and this was part of that unwieldy thing I mentioned earlier) in the same speech a character would rephrase what he or she just said. I'm really not sure if it was in an effort to give context clues to words, to make the wording more frilly (the Bible repeats itself alot, you know?) or what the deal was. I estimate nearly 1/4 of the book could be removed without detracting from the story at all. Another point where a good editor, or even proof reader, would have helped clean this up. 

Overall: The story has me completely intrigued, I am invested in figuring out the two plot hangers. Not so terribly invested in Namir (which is a bit of a shame, as he is the main character) but totally invested in finding out what happens to Hessa, Nurn and Halin. Kinda curious (and hopeful) to see what horrible fate Jaconis brings himself to, for being such a snot-nosed little booger. Although I got this copy as a courtesy for review, I plan on spending money to buy the next book in the series!

So, what do you think of this style of reviewing, rather than rating the book by stars?

Until Next Time,

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