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Smashwords book reviews by Maeve Sawyer
- Storm Dancer (Dark Epic Fantasy)
on Sep. 21, 2011
This novel takes place in a fantasy world --- but it's not full of dragons and unicorns. It's reminiscent of the Golden Age of Persia, full of cryptic soothsayers, scheming consorts, and ruthless satraps.
The main character, Dahoud, has faked his death because he's sick of war and its atrocities. Unfortunately, as often happens in 20th-century thrillers, he's just too damn good at war for the powers that be to leave him alone.
When Dahoud is dispatched to bring a rebellious province into the imperial fold, he plots to second-guess his manipulators. The idea is to accomplish the goal through wits and diplomacy, rather than the bloodbath the throne expects (and hopes for). To do this, Dahoud must gain the trust of the locals.
But the locals are justly outraged by the empire's oppression, and want no part of Dahoud (except, perhaps, his severed head). Nor is Dahoud stepping into a leaderless power vaccuum: a charismatic, powerful chieftain already enjoys the people's respect --- and he doesn't like Dahoud any more than they do!
Farther along, the heroine Merida arrives at the palace --- like Dahoud, she's assigned from afar to help people who don't want her help. Her preferred method is to bring rain to parched lands with her magical "storm dancing". Merida and Dahoud each must navigate tangled webs of betrayal and intrigue before their paths inevitably cross.
The quality of a story like this depends on the obstacles placed in the character's way by the author . . . and this author is relentless.
on May 22, 2012
This book is well-edited, almost error-free. The story is told in third-person, from the hero’s point of view. A couple of times the point of view briefly shifts to the hero’s love interest. Some of the earliest chapters also take the points of view of characters we don’t see again, as a way of showing how many different people are threatened by the invaders --- this may irk some readers, though it didn’t bother me in the least.
The hero is the title character, Tochwyatis. His home country of Maimo, whose culture reminded me of Finnish, or perhaps Swedish, is attacked by nomads that remind me of the Mongols. The world’s religion and politics are very simple.
At the start of a fantasy novel, most authors struggle with the conflicting needs for action and exposition. This author, Frej Wasastjerna, handles this challenge nicely, embedding exposition seamlessly into conflict when he can. It also helps that this book, while not overly long, has 37 chapters. Some chapters are fast and some are slow, but they’re so short that the fast-paced chapters seem even quicker --- and slow chapters don’t seem slow.
The hero takes up sorcery at the beginning of the tale, and even by the end of it he’s no expert. The action of casting spells is simple but dramatic. Magical theory is an intriguing mix of astronomy and alchemy, yet is also simple. The rules of magic surface occasionally for specific plot reasons, but the reader isn’t taxed.
Toch travels a lot in this story. The distances aren’t always vast, but much of it’s in stormy weather over awful terrain. And while this hero comes from humble beginnings (as many fantasy heroes do), he stays humble. For real. Not in a “time to save the world again” kind of way, but the real deal. His greatest asset is not his combat prowess or magical talent, but his common sense.
Practical details of this story seem well-researched. The author describes the trials of a mounted crossbowman, sailing the seas in winter, and misleading enemy trackers in heavy snow. He doesn’t shy away from how the basics of horseback riding might be lost on sailors (when they fail to care for their horses properly, they aren’t allowed to simply get away with it). He doesn’t gloss over mundane aspects of the story, but he doesn’t let them drag either, so they always lend urgency.
No one told the story’s minor characters that they’re minor characters. When they die, it matters. As the hero was crawling across a frozen river to keep his weight spread out, I groaned when I saw one of the hero’s temporary companions fall through the ice. I sighed in relief to find the icy water beneath was knee-deep, only to worry again when I recognized that he might lose his feet to frostbite.
I didn’t care for the ending that much. I suppose it was because the ending answered all my questions. But that’s a matter of taste, along with the question of whether a given reader prefers standalones to series. I personally prefer series, but I suppose in the case of a “standalone”, an ending that wraps everything up tight can be a strength. So I didn’t reduce my rating on that account.
HERE BE SPOILERS
I loved the confrontation between Tochwyatis and Ugude, the “Khan” of the Tagaiashan Horde. The author simply did not care about the conventions of how fantasy novels are supposed to handle such confrontations between heros and villains. I found this fight perfectly believable, and suspenseful.
The romance in the book is very simple. The hero is infatuated with the heroine on sight, and silently pines after her for a long time. She announces her own love for the hero rather suddenly, so there is no struggle for the hero to win her heart. Some readers may be disappointed by this.
There is no explicit sex in the book. The plot provides a solid reason why two unattached, attractive young adults in love, who could die any minute, choose not to have sex. The hero does become flustered at the closeness of her body sometimes, but is a perfect gentleman until the consummation of their marriage. It’s one of those things some people will love and others will hate, but I found it charming.
There are some references to various atrocities committed against captured prisoners; I don’t remember the author having any of that directly happen in front of the reader though. These incidents are pretty rough, but they are witnessed after the fact (or described by a witness to another character), rather than directly experienced.
I had a great time with the book, and think it’s a good "gateway" book for someone who likes historical fiction and wants to give fantasy a try. There is no profanity.