Monday, August 18, 2014

Fairy Tale

Dark Dancer
Jaleta Clegg
Amazon Digital Services, 2014

How did the realm of Faerie ever become the place where children's stories take place? Even J.M. Barrie has Peter Pan surrounded by dangers that should give a sane person nightmares. It's the charm of his story that we think Peter is going to be OK. But in Faerie there are no guarantees.

I think the most dangerous realm of Faerie I've ever read about was Greg Bear's The Infinity Concerto, and its sequel, The Serpent Mage. In those pages the "fair folk" are inscrutable, chaotic, and deadly. Think of the quisatz haderach test from Dune, but it doesn't end, and there's not just physical pain involved. That depiction has sort of stayed with me, so when I come across stories that take place in that realm, Bear's take is one of my main touch stones.

In Jaleta Clegg's Dark Dancer the story starts out the way a horror movie might, with an innocent child dancing in a meadow. Mysterious magical things happen next, and before we know it, Sabrina is living with her aunt Dianna and her cousin Katie, with no memories of what came before. Things seem to be going perfectly, until the summer before college. Sabrina and Katie return to Sabrina's abandoned home, and when Katie starts dancing in that meadow it triggers a series of events that propel Sabrina into a life she hadn't dreamt of, and wasn't prepared for. Her childhood memories turn out to be real. There are dangerous elves after her for the magical powers she didn't know she had. And there are swoon inducing leading men to lose her heart to. Not to mention a prophecy to fulfill.

Betrayal. Intrigue. Magic. Adventure. The story is a fun mix of everything we want in our lives. Well, except for the betrayal. Most of us would be cool if we never experienced it. But, hey, if it means adventure, what price, eh?

Sabrina, as the viewpoint character (there are a few interruptions with scenes involving the main bad guys) is a likeable young lady, old enough to appreciate what is going on, but not terribly sophisticated. She's about to start college, but her life with aunt Dianna hasn't prepared her for dealing with treacherous elves, nor, apparently, taught her the meaning of the word "consort." Oh, never mind. I know people like that on Facebook.

The world itself has many of the familiar characteristics of realms of Faerie. It's small, parochial, and magical, with all the creatures we're accustomed to from stories - fauns, nymphs, dryads, pixies, and, of course, elves. They take their accustomed places without any complaints, it seems. It's a shortish story. There is the occasional feeling of getting railroaded from plot point to plot point; no doubt that's how a lot of people feel when things keep happening to them. In most but not all cases it's a believable form of zugzwang - events are being pushed along by the mere presence of Sabrina in this world.

I really wanted to like this story. There are many parts of this story that I did enjoy. But overall it seems a bit sloppy, with copy editing errors left behind, and several places where I think an editor would insist on more work. The scene where Sabrina meets Mordentius. The part where Sabrina meets Joren - there's got to be more to that for the end to make sense emotionally. The interactions with Dianna and Balakyn. Saber fencing and freeclimbing skills from seemingly nowhere. And especially the matter of Katie, and how she ends up conveniently in place for the final scenes - that part really contributes to the feeling of narrative railroading.

I read an Advance Reader Copy, so I don't know how much of this can be changed as the ebook is already available on Amazon. But right now I can't recommend the book.

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