Although I have been super busy I somehow managed to finish the April Sword & Laser book pick, A Dance of Cloaks by David Dalglish.
Despite the fairly high page count (around 450 pages, depending on the version), it was actually a very quick read. And that, unfortunately, is about all I can say in favor of this book. I mean, it seems like the sort of book I would love – waring thief guilds, characters trying to outwit each other, a lot of action sequences. And yet this book fell completely flat for me. All of the characters just sort of felt like tropes, without anything personal or endearing to recommend them. I’m all in favor of character-heavy stories, but I think too many important characters were introduced too soon – you didn’t have enough time to get to know them before you had to meet (though in this book it might be more appropriate to say “meat”) someone else. You sort of had to assign the characters to tropes to keep it all straight. The sad thing was that they never really broke away from those classifications.
Another issue I had with this story is that the ploty-ness of the characters didn’t really feel organic. Too many characters just flat out telling you too much about their plots. The reader sort of knew what was going to happen at all times, and sort of knew if the plan was going to work of fail right away. There was no time to really have that “oncoming train-wreck” feeling that sort of forces you to have an empathetic connection to a character. Although things didn’t always go according to plan, I don’t think there was any point in the book where I felt truly surprised.
I also wasn’t a fan of all of the violence in the book. I mean, let’s be honest – there tends to be a lot of violence in fantasy and science fiction. Death lends itself well to epic-ness. And most of the time it doesn’t really bother me, but for some reason in this book it did. I think, perhaps, because I didn’t feel anything while reading about it? Normally when reading about tragic events happening to a beloved character it creates some sort of emotional response, but I had none of that in this book. It made reading about their terrible situations feel rather awkward and uncomfortable. The fighting and resulting body count seemed to be just a bit over the top – everything was just a bit too obviously a pissing match to see which character was the most badass. Everyone being so incredibly skilled and having a near-infinite supply of daggers didn’t lend much credence to the fight scenes either.
Even the resolution of the story was dissatisfying. I understand that this is part of a trilogy, but the end of the first book didn’t have much of an ending, with a lot of plot points unresolved, and a lot of characters lacking a follow-up after the climax of the story. Granted, the lack of point of view can be a very effective way to achieve a cliff hanger, but I don’t think it was used to full effect here. I wasn’t really concerned about any of the characters, the story just seemed to end because the night was over and everyone was heading back to their hidey-holes.
So, yeah, I wasn’t a fan of this book. Which is too bad because it came highly recommended and I was excited to read it at first. It had the makings of a good fantasy story, but nothing really felt fully flushed out. Fantasy books tend to be long for a reason – you need a lot of details to create a believable world with believable characters and interesting plot. This book lacked lacked the details, and thus lacked the interest for me. The one thing I will say is that in reading this book and being readily able to pick out its flaws, it made it much more evident what is required to make a good fantasy novel actually work. Obviously, I am not going to give this novel a high recommendation, as I really don’t think got enough enjoyment to justify the time spent on it. However, I do think it could be useful for aspiring writers to read it – juxtaposing it with something like A Song of Ice and Fire can be extremely informative as to why and how long epic stories work. Hint: having a complicated plot, badass characters, and shiny weapons isn’t it.