REVIEW: Blade Dancer by S.L. Viehl
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The death of her mother exposes Jory as a half-human/half-alien. She is expelled from Earth, charged by her mother to find six similar creatures who were conceived through violence. Gathering the six, Jory goes to assassin school to become a “Blade Dancer” to seek revenge on the one responsible.
PROS: Fast-paced action; believable depictions of racial prejudice; and a military school reminiscent of the Orson Scott Card classic Ender’s Game.
CONS: Minor difficulties jumping into a world without the background of the Stardoc novels and their universe.
BOTTOM LINE: An action packed story in a socially complex universe that has me adding the Stardoc novels to my reading list.
Jory Rask plays shockball on Earth, but we the reader never see her play; instead, our first encounter finds her burying her mother, an off-worlder, in the desert, away from prying eyes. But she is discovered, as is the fact that she as a half-human and her mother as an alien are on Earth illegally. She is deported off planet, former shock ball fans spitting on her and calling her names as she is escorted to a ship.
I have not read the Stardoc series…yet. The names of the species, planets and some of the rules of Viehl’s worlds were foreign. However, it was quickly apparent from the beginning of Blade Dancer that in this universe that species/racial prejudice were the norm, not only on Earth but apparent on the vessels and other worlds as well.
Jory’s mother tasks her with her dying wish of returning to Jory’s mother’s homeworld of Joren, announcing her death (“return to the stars”) and to find the six others like Jory who are half Joren and half some other species. Jory accepts this task, and adds to it revenge on her father Kieran, who raped her mother and forced their exile in hiding on Earth. On her ship to the planet Joren, she is confronted by a Blade Dancer, a trained assassin. After sparing and fighting off a ship invasion together, the Blade Dancer suggests Jory go to the Blade Dancer school called Tana on the planet Raytalon. He further entices her telling her her father who she is seeking trained there as a Blade Dancer.
Arriving on Joren, she encounters more half-breed prejudice, collects her six brethren and heads to the very cool but deadly Blade Dancer assassin school.
Cue Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, and I mean that in a good way. The similarities of the “everyone is against us including the teachers” mentality is here, but the differences are striking: more violence, sexual tension, lots of deaths, and outside of the school a battle rages, and the school will be forced to choose sides.
There are many examples of race/species prejudice in science fiction, but I cannot remember one told from a female’s point of view, with the Terrans just as bigoted as the rest of the galaxy. A hint of “Aryan purity” is well described in these pages, from the point of view of one feeling the prejudice and letting it feed her revenge. Trained assassins (and their schools) are always cool, but what motivates me to read the Stardoc novels is to find out what triggered the low tolerance for other species and races, what brought to the forefront the fear we all have of something different.
And, yeah, the assassin school was cool (did I mention that?).
One other interesting aspect was the “athlete who keeps playing when they shouldn’t” characteristic, which is well played into Jory’s character. Jory has a bad knee (I can relate) and has had it cyber re-engineered with black market stuff many times. This stubbornness foreshadows her character well.
There are some alien species that cross the line into fantasy (flying humanoids get my physics dander up). But the well paced action and interesting main characters, plus some unpredictable plot twists make it a good read, whether you have experienced the Stardoc universe or not.
[Full disclosure: I received this novel as a trade for a signed copy of one of my novels with the author.]
Filed under: Book Review
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