Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Dance of the Goblins by Jaq D. Hawkins

At the centre of goblin society is The Dance, the spiritual exaltation of life itself which is central to the goblins' existence. In the human world above, life is austere and goblins only a myth. When Count Anton is drawn into the rhythm of The Dance, a clash between two worlds is about to begin...

Haghuf, respected elder among the unseen goblins, has only scorn for humans. Yet he is drawn into friendship with a human aristocrat by the Dance, the celebration of life that holds the goblin society together.

Count Anton — human, magician, shapeshifter — rules the human world above.

When an unwitting human wanders accidentally into the caverns, a series of events is set into motion that will lead him to betray his loyalty to his own people to avoid a war that the humans cannot possibly win.

Hunted by humans who feel he has betrayed them by his friendship with the goblins, and unwelcome in the goblin world where all humans are considered the enemy, he will be thrown into a deeper world, where even the goblins have reason to be afraid.

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An intriguing story that pulls you into its world from the beginning and keeps you somewhat bemused while reading. From the start, it's clear that the author's sympathies are with the goblins, and, as we soon find out, for good reason. Set in what is apparently some sort of post-modern world, human society has regressed into something resembling the middle ages, with the majority of humans having become ignorant and superstitious, falling back onto extreme religious beliefs and bigoted and sexist practices that most of modern society has left behind, with only small groups of humans having retained more egalitarian and intellectual views. Throughout her tale, Ms. Hawkins shines a harsh light on the mindless superstitions and fanatical behavior that the commoners are prone to, and demonstrates how they can create and perpetrate greater evils than the things which they would name evil and seek to destroy.

The various characters in the story are introduced and portrayed in a very natural sort of way that makes you feel as though you know them, while in reality you are told very little about each of them at first. Gradually, as the tale unfolds, you discover additional facts about them, most of which are presented in a very casual or even offhand manner such that at times it takes a moment or two to realize that you've just learned something important about that person. There are no infodumps here, simply gradual and sparing character and world development that makes it seem as though you truly are learning about who these people are and what their worlds are like simply by observing them and making note of little details that you pick up on from time to time. I for one found it to be quite a fascinating approach, and it kept me curious to see what would be revealed next.

Those looking for action might be somewhat disappointed with this book, for the pace is mostly fairly slow and unhurried. There are times when the characters are called upon to take swift and decisive action, and there are scenes of high drama within the story, but mostly it's a slow journey rather than a race to the finish. Such is both one of the story's strengths, and one of its weaknesses I think, for while the laidback pace is one thing that makes this book rather fascinating, there are times when things seem to plod along just a bit too much and I found myself wishing they would get on with it, or get to the point, or whatever already instead of just sitting and pondering or debating what should be done, or getting lost in explanation or backstories that didn't necessarily need to be told then.

The main weakness I found with this book was the ending. After the main climactic event of the storyline, things seemed to drag on a bit too long in my opinion. True, there were several things that needed to be resolved, or at least explained a bit more, after that event, but some of them could have been summed up faster I think. And the ending, when it did come was a bit abrupt seeming, for there wasn't any real sense of the narrative winding down to a stopping point. I gather that there is or will be a sequel to this book, and that explains the rather open-endedness of it, but a little more sense of wind-down and of coming-to-a-stop-for-now would have been good I think.

My disappointment with the ending aside, however, I really liked this book, and would certainly recommend it to anyone who likes traditional type fantasy, as there are creatures and magic enough to please. There are even a few light threads of romance woven into the story, one of which is fairly relevant to the main story even if it is mostly a sidenote to it. An overall enjoyable read so long as you're willing to sit back and let it tell its story in its own time.

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