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Brendan Detzner reviews "The Red Dance" by Lani K. Thompson

It’s rare for fantasy authors to take advantage of the freedom that they supposedly have. The entire genre is founded on imagination, on places and things that don’t exist and never could. The rules are loose and the possibilities are endless. Despite this, most authors in the genre are content merely to imitate the work of others and serve up the same-old-thing-but-different for their readers time and time again.

“The Red Dance” by Lani K. Thompson is, basically, a work of fantasy, but it distinguishes itself in its startling originality. Within the first few pages it becomes dramatically clear just how different it is. The book starts out by teasing us with vague glimpses of a women named Faelin, a women who will remain out of sight for most of the story but whose actions turn out to be strangely significant. The style in the opening section is sketchy, and spare in detail. It tells us just enough to grab our attention, but not enough for us to be sure of anything, before the scene suddenly changes to the main thread of the story. The scene (Where? We’re not sure.) opens on a discussion between two cats concerning the ritual by which cats are chosen by the hags as familiars. The image of women in pointy hats being served by black-furred felines has the whiff of the familiar to it, but as the cats talk it becomes clear that this process has a history and a context deeper and richer then we might suspect. The first few scenes, as we gradually learn more about who the major players in this world are and begin to suspect what their goals might be, are the best ones in the book. Even as we learn more about what’s going on, we learn even more about how much we don’t know, and have no way of guessing.

Later in the book, as plot threads untangle more and more quickly and we learn more and more, Thompson’s spare prose starts to show its weaknesses. The broad brush strokes she uses initially force us to fill in the blanks ourselves and draw us into what's going on, but as the plot grow more complicated it becomes hard to keep track of everything. In the finally third of the book especially, a lighter touch might’ve kept things clearer. As it is, the impact of the story’s final revelations are muted.

In spite of this, the cliff-hanger ending left me curious and hungry for more. Apparently there are more books on the way, continuing the story, and I’m looking forward to seeing what direction the story goes. “The Red Dance” marks the beginning of what looks to be an interesting, engrossing, and truly unusual story.

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