A Dance of Blades is the rare second book in the series that is just better than its predecessor. The first book felt like it just kind of stopped at the end. Things were really ramping up and then suddenly it was just over. That set-up makes A Dance of Blades feel more like a “part 2” than an independent novel. Granted, there is a time skip. This book picks up 5 years after A Dance of Cloaks. If things had picked up immediately where the story left off, we would have been given a very different novel.
Firstly, the time-skip makes everyone a bit older, giving characters the chance to develop a bit outside the story. The younger characters are given time to hone their skills and mature a little. The older characters sink further into their ways, becoming more bitter as the war for the city’s underworld goes on. It also allows time for the city and factions in the conflict to recover following the giant battle in the previous book. If there were big battles all the time, the story would not be believable. Giving characters down-time and showcasing major events plays out extremely well here.
Along with the old characters, we get a few new ones. New players in the game such as Ghost and Deathmask are wonderful additions to the story. No one in the Shadowdance books is truly a hero or villain; they all lie somewhere in-between and that makes the story much more real. None of the major characters are clichés. We get to see their mental states and how they are all struggling with what they view as the right thing to do. Decisions are made on emotion just as much as logic, giving all the characters the feel of being real people.
The world building, a key feature is any fantasy series, starts to ramp up here as well. Magic becomes more prevalent and its rules start to get explained a bit more. Since reading the Shadowdance series I have learned that it is a prequel to Dalglish’s Half-Orc series (which I have not read yet at the time of this writing) so there may be things I missed here. Overall though, it does a great job at being a sequel and sets things up nicely for the next installment in the series.