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.
I spent a bit of time reading in March and April, but more time writing! I have finally finished a novella that I have been working on and submitted it to a publisher, so I am crossing my fingers waiting to hear if it has been accepted or not. Here is my reading list for the past two months:
I spent much of the last two months obsessed with Hannibal Lecter, which was weird and oddly satisfying. I watched the whole series of Hannibal (twice!) and read the first two books again. I highly recommend the series to anyone who is a fan of the books, as they have done an incredible job translating Harris’ characters and dialogue into an amazing show. Plus, there a cannibal puns.
When Brian Freyermuth contacted me and asked me to review his book Demon Dance, from the Book Club Reading List, I was thrilled. I’ve just started it on my Kindle and I can’t wait to share my interview with Brian with my readers. Until then, here is brief preview of what Demon Dance brings to the page.
You can run all you want, but the game’s in your blood. And blood never forgets…
Nick St. James was born different. His extraordinary gifts have saved him time and time again, but they couldn’t save the one thing he loved most: his wife.
Now he just wants to forget his old life, but more importantly, he wants to forget the magical underworld that lives beneath the “real” world. A place where a man’s faith can determine the very fabric of reality. Where ancient forgotten gods walk hidden among us, and angels and demons fight for our very souls.
But nothing stays hidden forever. Nick’s peaceful world is ripped apart when a demon slaughters his ex-partner and marks him for death. Now he must use all his gifts to find the one who summoned the nightmarish creature, but more importantly, he needs to find the one thing he lost long ago.
I got a lot of reading done in the past month and discovered some great new ebooks.
Blood in the Water, Midsummer Baker, and Firesong were all published by Less than Three Press, which I just recently discovered and have been in love with ever since. They have some great stories including everything from science fiction to steampunk and represent every orientation from asexuality to polyamory. They have a section on their website with all free books, so check them out!
“Come to me, Shawne. Let me tell you a story of how it all began. I’ll tell you the Song of Time and Beginnings…Suddenly, as if the thought were too powerful or the yearning for beauty too great—there was Existence: A violent seething mass of all that would create Time, becoming.”
The Archives of Varok, by Cary Neeper, consists of three books, The View Beyond Earth, The Webs of Varok, and The Alien Effect, with a fourth on the way. When I found these books on Cheap Kindle Books and told Cary Neeper that I was interested in reviewing the second book in the series, she graciously sent me the first as well, so this will be a compound review of the two of them. Both were excellent in their own ways and I am thrilled to be able to write about them now.
“No tears, Tandra. Life is lived well by many other stars. You have gone beyond Earth, eh? Human beings will leave a fascinating fossil record for those to come.”
In the first book of the series, The View Beyond Earth, Tandra Grey discovers that there is intelligent life out there after all, and it wants her. The microbiologist is recruited by a man in a space suit, who turns out to not be a man at all, to do some groundbreaking research…on the moon. She travels to space with her adopted daughter Shawne to study whether or not alien and human hosts are able to transmit viruses to each other, in preparation for the two alien species on the moon base to make contact with Earth. While she is there, she has a lot to learn about inter-species relationships and cultural diversity. The ellls are a fun-loving aquatic species appearing to be a sort of humanoid frog hybrid. They live and swim in large schools and thrive on contact and closeness. The varok, on the other hand, are much more physically similar to humans, aside from protruding organs on their heads which allow them to communicate telepathically with each other and the other species of Varok. As a result of their close mental links, varok abhor physical contact with all but those they are closest too. Humans fall somewhere between the two species mentally and emotionally. It is up to Tandra, Conn the elll, and Orram the varok to do the impossible and convince the humans of Earth to accept guidance and help from the stars before it is too late to save their planet.
In The Webs of Varok, Orram, Conn, Tandra, and Shawne have returned to Varok as a family unit after failing to convince Earth to adopt a steady state economy. Tandra serves as a correspondent for Earth, showing her home planet just how things work on Varok. Trouble is brewing on the Jovian moon, however, and things are much bleaker than they were when Conn and Orram left. Among a species that is capable of telepathic communication and mood reading, there is no such thing as a lie and no way to hide dishonesty. When a brilliant varokian scientist learns to shield her mind from others, she starts a chain of events that may prove to destroy the steady state and the ecological balance those on Varok have worked so hard to achieve.
“To contain five intelligent, communicative species—each with conflicting demands—has always been Varok’s problem.”
Varok is a moon of Jupiter and home to multiple species of aliens and creatures. There are the varok that I described above and the ellls who come from Ellason, an aquatic world not far from Varok. There are also the ahlork, a winged reptilian species said to be the oldest inhabitants of the planet, and the Great Fish, who are held as the wisest species on Varok although they are unable to communicate in a spoken language. The daramounts are a sentient species somewhere between a dog and a camel physically, who offer denizens of Varok transportation in exchange for food and kindness. There are also unique creatures and flora on Varok, including the web stalks. Neeper has clearly put a lot of effort into building an entire incredible world on Varok. Instead of being content to focus more on the characters and let the logistics of the planet fall to the wayside, as often happens in science fiction, she has taken pains to create a number of unique species that have intricately different cultures, physical forms, and psychologies and to explain exactly how they all interact with each other and their environment.
Our family bonds were working, weaving us ever tighter as a team. Orram was my soul mate, joined with me in mind, fulfilling his deepest varokian need. And Conn—what can I say about an aquatic biped who can bat his billiard ball eyes like that?
One of the truly amazing things about these two books is the way they explore attraction on every level. There are relationships between characters who are experiencing romantic, platonic, sexual, and aesthetic attraction to different characters in different ways. In addition, Tandra and Conn go through a series of conflict and changes in attraction while learning to relate to each other across the species barrier before settling into a familial bond of brother and sister. Tandra’s adopted daughter Shawne is becomes the daughter of the entire family unit and Orram’s mother becomes like a mother to all three of them and a grandmother to Shawne. I found this very refreshing after reading so many books in the past that barely skim any type of attraction other than sexual or romantic and makes no effort to differentiate between the two.
Another way Cary Neeper has set herself apart with her work is by not shying away from sensitive political issues in the world-building she has done for Varok. The entire series advocates very strongly for a change in the way we approach our economy and environmentalism on Earth by modeling a successful steady state on Varok. In very basic terms, a steady state economy is one that stems from the realization that unchecked economic growth is destructive to human populations, natural resources, and the ecological health of the planet. The steady state advocates for a zero-growth model both in the economy and human population and a careful management of resources. Varok is an excellent model of what such a system would look like in practice and Neeper raises some very interesting points about the future of Earth if we continue to grow unchecked. For more information about the steady state, you can check out this website or an essay that Neeper herself wrote on the Varok steady state economy.
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The Archives of Varok tell the story of a group of aliens coming together and forming a family, despite great differences in their physical appearances, habits, psychology, and cultures. I enjoyed everything about these books, from the writing to the plot to the characters. Cary Neeper did a wonderful job of putting a fresh spin on the alien invasion story, offering visitors from space who just want to help Earth avoid the same problems they themselves faced in the past. These two books were a joy to read and definitely earned the five stars I have given them.
Happy New Year, book lovers! I am back with a new book that I am very excited about reviewing. The Webs of Varok by Carolyn Neeper won the Nautilus silver award in 2013 and was a ForeWord finalist in 2012 in the category of Adult Science Fiction. I found it on Cheap Kindle Books and got in touch with Ms. Neeper. Since the book is the second in a series, I have also read the first book in The Archives of Varok, The View Beyond Earth. I will be reviewing both of them together, which I hope will make up in part for my long hiatus.
The microbiologist human Tandra Grey follows her best instincts when trusting two aliens from nearby Varok. She bonds with them and takes her young daughter away from Earth to their ancient planet, where she expects to find the peace of a stable no-growth economy. Perhaps what she learns can set a good example for an overused Earth. Instead, its recovery sets the example. Tandra confronts a dangerous varokian beauty with a lack of integrity. Her metaphorical ability to block her mind from reading is destroying stability on Varok and challenging Tandra’s fragile new family.
This month was a busy one for me in my new job and I didn’t get to finish a review, but I did get some reading in during my down time. This month, I read:
I highly recommend each of these books. I was very excited for Felicity, which is Oliver’s newest collection of poems and it definitely lives up to what I would expect from a poet of her caliber. Atwood’s newest book, The Heart Goes Last, was something of a mixture of The Handmaid’s Tale and The Giver, and was truly gripping from start to finish.