Short Fiction Review: Poison Dance by Livia Blackburne

Poison DanceTitle: Poison Dance (Midnight Thief #0.05)

Author: Livia Blackburne

Publisher: Lion’s Quill Press on September 12, 2013

Source: Library

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James is skilled, efficient, and deadly, a hired blade navigating the shifting alliances of a deteriorating Assassin’s Guild.

Poison Dance is a prequel novella to Livia Blackburne’s recently released full-length novel, Midnight Thief, a title that’s been getting some pretty significant buzz. It introduces us to James, a secondary character in Midnight Thief and the mercurial leader of the assassin’s guild. It’s an origin story explaining conflict on two scales: the struggles between the rich and the poor, and protagonist James’ struggle to maintain his neutrality within the warring assassin’s guild.

I liked the classic medieval feel of Poison Dance, with guilds, taverns, and even some cultural diversity with the presence of the caravans. Much like a contemporary group of buddies, James, Bacchus, and Rand have a regular tavern that they frequent called The Scorned Maiden. Foreshadowing, perhaps? I guess we’ll see. The setting was wonderful, but the complete lack of fantasy elements was a little disappointing; presumably that will be more emphasized in Midnight Thief, which is being touted as a YA fantasy. I’m going to be very annoyed if it’s yet another YA fantasy series in which the fantasy is extremely minimal.

That said, I understand why Blackburne chose to focus on the human elements of this story. From what I’ve heard, James can be a bit of a dick in Midnight Thief, and this novella hints at the reasons for his behaviour. His relationship with Thalia, a tavern dancer at The Scorned Maiden, provides some much-needed relief from the whole tough guy shtick. Despite the fact that James tries to keep his distance, it’s pretty obvious that he’s falling for her.

Thalia had potential, but I felt like there wasn’t enough time spent developing her character. Her back story was sad, but I just didn’t feel all that connected to her. That could be because of how obvious her fate was: why waste time caring, right? Clearly there’s more to this girl than meets the eye, since as James points out, tavern dancers don’t go walking around wearing ornate jewelry.

Livia Blackburne’s writing is tight and even, and she kept the plot at a breakneck pace – something I always appreciate in a novella. The quality of Blackburne’s writing in Poison Dance gives me reason to hope that Midnight Thief will be the next YA fantasy series I fall in love with. In fact, there was only one line I didn’t like: when James “let[s] out a breath he hadn’t known he was holding.” There’s something about that phrase that just rubs me the wrong way.

Overall though, Poison Dance was a triumph.I am a little concerned that the tone of Midnight Thief will be vastly different though, since that is a YA novel while Poison Dance follows adult characters. Let’s just say that James isn’t the standard virginal, reluctant assassin of YA.  A great introduction to this new world, Poison Dance whetted my appetite for Midnight Thief, promising struggles against poverty, corruption, and a heavy dose of moral ambiguity.

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