I found Storm Dancer by Rayne Hall on Twitter where I have been spending a questionable amount of time lately. The book also came with a warning about the dark nature of the story and the disturbing themes running through it. It’s a sensible thing to do if you don’t know the person you’re recommending a book to but I wish it wasn’t necessary. The warning tinges the reader’s preconceptions and to be honest, I’ve read much more violent and disturbing books without warning and thoroughly enjoyed them too (Stephen Donaldson‘s Thomas Covenant novels springs to mind).
Now that the warnings are out the way, let me get to the book. The story is set in a desert country reminiscent of Ancient Arabia one finds in Arabic fables. The protagonist, Dahoud, has turned his back on his past and his nature. After an illustrious career as one of the most violent and effective war generals in the Quislaki army he returned to the life of a labourer in the hopes of atoning for his crimes. We first meet him when he is summoned back to the Quislaki capital and ordered back into the fray.
I was drawn into Dahoud’s battle with himself from the start. Driving his desire for violence is a Djinn that takes advantage of his dark side and goads him to ever worse deeds. The Quislaki ruler, Kirral, is possessed by a similar Djinn, but one that has not been curbed by its host. The contrast between the two makes for some great reading. Add to this a feisty, beautiful magician called Merida who is trapped in Quislak by Kirral’s machinations and the scene is set for a great read. Hall’s characters are vivid and many faceted and one can’t help but empathise with all of them and their personal struggles.
Although the main theme of the book centers on violence against women I found the subtler theme of the struggle and acceptance of one’s dark side to be the more intriguing part of the story. Both Merida and Dahoud are unwilling to accept their failings and they are lessened by the limitations they place on themselves. Only with complete acceptance is each able to move forward. There may be a lesson there…
Storm Dancer is a wonderful tale of magic and myth woven into one. I couldn’t put this book down and would recommend it to all lovers of Dark Fantasy. You may want to avoid this if you’re sensitive or on the squeamish side but if that’s the case you should probably steer clear of all Dark Fantasy.