Blade Dancer by K.M. Tolan
Published February 1st 2008 by Champagne Books
Review by N.E. White.
Blade Dancer is a complicated story set in an alien world rich in military history. The reader is immersed in the life of Mikial Haran, a new soldier in the Qurl Datha sect, while she struggles with her own personal demons and the events in her world that threaten to change the path of all its inhabitants – regardless of how much they hate each other.
The story starts out with Mikial jumping from an airship into the midst of a border skirmish on the edge of her sect’s holding. But the skirmish soon turns into a massacre. Though she and her unit are Datha (or Dathia for females), a race of Qurls designed bigger, stronger and fiercer for combat, they are outgunned by their enemies’, the Minnerans (a former Taqurl Servant race with built-in fertility problems), new weapons. Weapons that tear through their armor like it wasn’t even there and launch explosions at a range they didn’t think was possible.
Mikial’s strike team manages to retreat to safety, but not before she sees her mentor die before her eyes while she is unable to do anything. This death haunts Mikial and leads her to do something rash – use forbidden, ancient Taqurl technology to take a peek at what else the Minnerans have in store for her holding.
Her bold actions bring back vital information, but her defiance against orders results in a sentence of patrol on a remote border of their holding. While protecting an baby exchange between the Kiorannas (another Servant race also with fertility challenges), Mikial again goes against her training and crosses the border to find out who’s destroying Kioranna’s villages and blaming it on the Qurls.
With the Servant Kioranna race, she learns that not all the events in their planet’s history is told the same way on the other side of the border, and the Qurl’s national hero may have been a traitor. To top it off, it appeared that the Qurl’s knowledge of their enemies is not as accurate either. The Minnerans are plotting to join forces with the Kioranna’s to take over the Qurl holdings, and given their new weapons and the combined forces, they have a very good chance of doing it.
How could her leaders have gotten it all so wrong? She knows her next step is to warn her people, but before she can do that, she’s kidnapped – by a human.
This fast paced, military-bent, science fiction tale is Mr. K.T. Tolan’s first book. Epic in scope, Mr. Tolan does a great job at describing the military structure, and combat scenes. He’s also done an excellent job of detailing a rich history for an alien world at the brink of huge change. A winner of the 2009 EPIC (Eppie) Award, Mr. Tolan does know how to weave a grand tale, however, the book did have drawbacks for me.
There were quite a few times when I wished the author would have slowed down. I felt as if he rushed poor Mikial from one disaster after another. In itself, one disaster after another is fine, but there were a few times it felt as if his character went from one emotional extreme to another without enough explanation as to why.
Another problem for me was the fact that I really don’t have a good mental picture of what Mikial and her fellow Qurls look like. Frankly, I have no idea how the Minnerans or Kiorannas look like either and that really bugged me. Because the story is told from the perspective of an alien, there’s no way for the author to compare their looks to creatures that we might find familiar. Though Mr. Tolan does an excellent job of describing their battle dress, and the social interactions between them all, I really never did get a good sense of what she looked like. Even after she captures a human, Ryan Donald, all we get from him is that she looks like a “fantasy nightmare.”
Because Mr. Tolan does do a great job of detailing the behavior and specific feature differences between the separate sects (Qurl, Ippers, Cothras, and Shanti), and because they move and act much the same as we would, I know they are humanoid and in the end I guess it doesn’t matter. But still, during Mikial’s final, moving battle dance, I had the nagging feeling that my mental image of her is all off.
If you can get past that, I think Mr. Tolan’s first book is a promising beginning to an entertaining series.
N.E. White, July 2012.