Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Surfing the Human Wave: Thomas Alexander's Mistress of the Dancing Bones

Before I got distracted by the whole post-binary gender controversy, I was in the process of reading Mistress of the Dancing Bones, the first book in Thomas Alexander's Sang Noir series. I have since finished the novel, so I shall now share my (belated) thoughts.

Alexander's premise is uncomfortable -- but in a good way. Essentially, several centuries before the start of Mistress, the human race entered into a compact with vampires who dub themselves the nephilim: military defense against the monstrous creatures who walk the Deathlands in exchange for mortal blood. As revealed in Mistress, the society that grew from this compact is quite exploitative if seen from mortal eyes. Leaving aside the worst of the nephilim aristocracy - who treat the humans in their midst as either sexual playthings or cattle - even the main character's father must accept human sacrifices to feed his hungry forces. It's a cruel universe -- but also a fascinating one worth exploring.

In truth, however, Alexander's characterization didn't always do it for me. I didn't grok Delune's sudden switch from subtly racist courtier to lunatic rapist, for example. I was also having trouble pinning down exactly how old Ashia was, as she was sometimes written as a little girl and sometimes written as a blossoming teenager -- and her attraction to Francois, in my opinion, felt unrealistically swift. On the other hand, Tama was a lot of fun -- a great foil for Ashia's more traditional moral sensibilities. I'm looking forward to seeing more of her.

The most important question, of course, is whether I'm willing to pick up book two. The answer to that is yes. While Alexander didn't always develop his characters in ways that felt sensible, he has piqued my interest, and I do want to see where this story goes from here.

Final Verdict: Recommended, But With Notes.  

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