Demon Dance is the first book in Brian Freyermuth’s Sundancer series. There are currently two books in the series and Brian is working on book number three right now. This title from Book Club Reading List is a captivating urban fantasy, filled with old gods, angels, and demons, where no one is quite who they seem to be.
“Leave it to an ancient god to ruin a perfectly good afternoon.”
Nick St. James just wants to be left alone. Following the death of his wife, he quit his job as a private investigator with a focus on the paranormal. Moving to Seattle, he settled into a life of obscurity writing romance novels under a pseudonym. Without warning, Nick is thrown right back into his old life when his dead wife’s vampire sister shows up in town, wanting help with a big job. He turns her down, but soon finds himself fielding a visit from an ancient god, a message from a dragon, and an attack by a furious demon. Not to mention that audience with the leader of Heaven’s army, Michael the Archangel. As much as Nick would like to bury his head in the sand, soon a young woman and her daughter are fixed in the demon’s sights and it will take all of his old tricks to keep them and his new friends safe from the Demon’s dance.
“A disgraced hero, wanting to find her place in the world, a blind wizard who wants to show others that he’s not worthless, and a fallen one whose power faded with each passing night in his prison. Is this your army?
A key strength of Demon Dance is the diversity of Freyermuth’s characters. Nick’s band of friends and charges include a vampire, magic users, and a fallen angel in witness protection. Thelma is a bisexual African barista who can stop demons with a magical coffee grinder. Her half-brother Jake is a blind antiquarian with a skill for warding and tracking spells. Nick himself is described as dark skinned and a quarter Lakota, though his past is a mystery and he is also clearly some kind of supernatural creature. Then there is Beth, a young single mother who runs a homeless shelter, her daughter Amanda, and Beth’s friend Adam, who is much more than the amnesiac homeless man he portrays. These characters, along with a wide array of other creatures and old gods, keep the story moving at a fast pace that never slows down.
What brings this wide array of characters together so neatly is the overall theme of appearances and the way they can mask what lies within a person. Each character has something to hide, from the mystery of little Amanda’s father to the truth behind Adam, the homeless man who is much more than he seems. Freyermuth has created a world where the supernatural lives side by side with the human race, hidden in plain sight. Anyone at all, from the friendly neighborhood librarian to the junky in the coffee shop could be an ancient god or a vicious demon. The beat cop on the street could be an angel. The coroner? Vampire. Uncovering the secret’s behind the character’s in Demon Dance will keep you guessing until the last page and some will remain a mystery even after the book ends.
“Love and death, Mr. St. James,” Azazel said softly. “They are as intertwined as the trees outside.”
While I really enjoyed reading Demon Dance, at times it was all too obvious where the influence for the book was coming from. Freyermuth borrowed heavily from The Dresden Files and American Gods for world building , which makes since given that he said in our interview that the authors he was most inspired by were Jim Butcher and Neil Gaiman. I also caught traces of other influences, like Good Omens, which is again Neil Gaiman, and episodes of Supernatural. Occasionally I would get distracted from the book itself when I recognized a particularly close parallel and it somewhat impacted my enjoyment of an otherwise wonderful novel.
The biggest unanswered question that frustrated me about the series is Nick St. James himself. I know that there will be more books where the subject is explored in detail (hopefully), but it was odd to read the whole book without even knowing the species of the main character. Nick has super strength and speed, he can see in the dark, and has enough power to be on the radar of the likes of the archangel Michael and Baal, a king of Hell. Nick himself doesn’t seem to know what he is, raised by an alcoholic mother after his father died before he was born. Some other characters teasingly refer to him as Superman, which doesn’t seem too far off the mark. This mystery will definitely keep me reading the series to figure out exactly where Nick gets his abilities.
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I am giving Demon Dance four out of five stars. While I enjoyed it immensely and am eager to read the rest of the series, it was just a little too derivative for my tastes to truly earn that fifth star. Despite that, I would highly recommend Demon Dance to anyone interested in urban fantasy, especially fans of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods and Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files. You will definitely not be disappointed.