Shadowdance: A Dance of Cloaks by David Daglish – Book Review [Bane of Kings]

A Dance of Cloaks

Milo, aka “Bane of Kings”, writes a review of A Dance of Cloaks, the first novel in the originally self-published Shadowdance epic fantasy series – reprinted by Orbit Books and written by David Daglish. Whilst the author has set this novel in the same world as his Half-Orc series, A Dance of Cloaks can be read without prior knowledge of those books. 

“An engaging, dark character driven novel that whilst doesn’t really bring anything new to the table in terms of originality – delivers a damn fine read nonetheless. David Daglish is certainly an author to watch out for, as he delivers a promising debut.” ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields

Thren Felhorn is the greatest assassin of his time. Marshalling the thieves’ guilds under his control, he declares war against the Trifect, an allegiance of wealthy and powerful nobles.

Aaron Felhorn has been groomed since birth to be Thren’s heir. Sent to kill the daughter of a priest, Aaron instead risks his own life to protect her from the wrath of his guild. In doing so, he glimpses a world beyond poison, daggers, and the iron control of his father.

Guilds twist and turn, trading allegiances for survival. The Trifect weakens, its reputation broken, its money dwindling. The players take sides as the war nears its end, and Thren puts in motion a plan to execute hundreds.

Only Aaron can stop the massacre and protect those he loves…

Assassin or protector; every choice has its consequences.

I first read around about half of A Dance of Cloaks around about September last year, when I was on holiday in France. I enjoyed it when I read it then – enough to return to it a year later, but I never got around to finishing the book the first time around because I had to reset my iPod that I was reading it on to factory settings thus wiping the book from the device. I never got around to getting back into it, and I was glad when it eventually found its way to a publisher, in this case Orbit – who are very self-published friendly – take Michael J. Sullivan’s Riryia Revelations, for example – which was also initially self-published, and thus I finally got the chance to read the first novel in the Shadowdance series from David Daglish in full, and I was pleased to discover that the novel is executed pretty well indeed. It’s a solid, confident and engaging novel with some very interesting characters, but I think that its major problem here is that we get a sense of deja vu. We’ve seen pretty much everything that happens in A Dance of Cloaks before – and what unfolds in the pages of this novel is nothing new. George RR Martin, Peter V. Brett, Mark Lawrence, Brent Weeks, Joe Abercrombie and their ilk have done grimdark fantasy – something that this novel certainly is, multiple times before, and in most cases, have pulled it off a heck of a lot better.

A Dance of CloaksHowever, if you’re not tired of the grimdark scene just yet, then the Shadowdance novels, starting with A Dance of Cloaks – will be right up your alley. Assassins, thieves, multiple point of views, this novel has it all. Whilst I’m not a fan of the somewhat contemporary names such as Aaron being used for major characters in a fantasy world this is merely a minor niggle – the book still manages to be a very solid read that gives us some nuanced and interesting three-dimensional characters, each with their own stories to tell. I never got tired of reading Daglish’s various characters that were on display here – they keep the storyline going when otherwise it would have fallen into the trap of being boring and repetitive. The characters keep the reader reading, and the action scenes – of which there are many – are not to be overlooked. Daglish has a solid grasp on creating a page-turning read as well, for A Dance of Cloaks kept me hooked from the beginning onwards.

The book itself is set in a pretty well developed world, named Dezrel. Originally billed as a standalone, I learned after reading this novel that A Dance of Cloaks is set in the same world as Daglish’s Half-Orc series, but I was able to jump in and enjoy this novel without having to have read the author’s previous works. Aaron Felhom is the novel’s main protagonist, but he’s far from the only one on display here. Like A Game of Thrones or anything else that’s grimdark – Daglish doesn’t shy away from creating an atmosphere where anything can happen – rendering the novel unpredictable and engaging.

There are a few more downsides however – common fantasy staples are thrust into the spotlight once again and in certain places, I felt that I was so overloaded with characters – particularly near the end, that I was struggle to keep track of them despite how well most of them were written. The book itself therefore  is flawed and imperfect – but if you’re not tired of the grimdark fantasy scene yet, then A Dance of Cloaks may well be right up your street.

VERDICT: 3/5

Milo, aka Bane of Kings, is a SFF/Comic reader, and watches a lot of TV. His favourite authors are Neil Gaiman, China Mieville, Jim Butcher, Brandon Sanderson & Iain M. Banks, whilst his favourite TV shows are Battlestar Galactica (2003), Person Of Interest, Firefly, Game of Thrones, & Buffy the Vampire Slayer

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