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Dance of Despair hit all the highs for me. It was gripping, with increasing stakes, action, romance, and a kick-ass heroine. Kara wrote an even better book here compared to Crown of Conspiracy (which was already pretty good!). It’s an impressive feat, especially considering both books are self-published. If you want to support Kara and show her some love, be sure to check out her website.
Note: If you haven’t read Crown of Conspiracy yet, I recommend you read that before you read this review. Also, reading Song of Shadows in between CoC and Dance of Despair is a great way to get more background on past events and some of the characters in the books.
After the events of CoC, Shalitha is now stranded in Zihrin, a foreign country with vastly different rules and traditions. She doesn’t know who to trust or how to get home. But then she meets a stranger who goes out of his way to help her. Can she trust again? Back in Ilvanna, Talnovar is struggling with the loss of Shal and with the rise of the new tyrant Queen. He needs to push himself even harder than ever if he ever hopes of getting Shal back.
“Accompanied by a thousand voices raised in an eerie lament, flames danced against the dark backdrop of the night, licking up the pyre in their hungry conquest for more.”
This story worked on multiple levels. It had a good flow; it wasn’t repetitive, and, importantly, the stakes kept rising. I wasn’t bored for one moment. The climactic moments were where you’d expect them, and they were executed well with the necessary twists. Especially some twists at the end were great: looking back, I could’ve seen them coming, but I was hoping too hard for it to turn out okay. It was a real sucker-punch in the gut. I love it. Next to that, it also dealt with the themes of coping with loss, addiction, and the power of love. Or, at least, that’s what I got out of it.
Shal is a great character. She is strong, a great fighter, smart, but also way to stubborn for her own good. She’s very easy to root for. Just as it’s easy to fall in love with Tal, he’s going through a rough time here, hiding in drugs to suppress his sorrows. But who doesn’t love a good, redeemable character? We know from CoC that he can be better, that he can come back from this. But he needs to defeat a whole lot of demons before he does. I really enjoyed getting parts of the story from Tal’s side, as it gave more depth and insight into his character.
As far as side characters go, there are a few. The most noteworthy here is Elay, the stranger Shal meets. It’s someone you like from the start, but it’s clear he’s more complicated than he seems—a very intriguing character. Azra is the purest evil you will ever see. It did sometimes feel a bit like a caricature, ‘the crazy, unpredictable villain,’ ’cause she is very unpredictable. Scheming and calculating one minute, totally murderous the other, and wanting love and affection somewhere in between. We don’t get that much of Shal’s brother’s in Dance of Despair. Hael is probably the most present of the two and boy did he surprise me. I’m still a bit undecided about him.
“Night and day turned into an endless loop of despair until I no longer knew how much time had passed.”
If there’s anything Kara does really well, it’s world-building. Somehow she creates these places that I can just instantly see in my head, even if she doesn’t spend too many words on them. Zihrin brings to mind places such as in Marocco, while Ilvanna is a cold, more Nordic place, even when the clothing is more Asian influenced. It’s also interesting to see how different the cultures of these places are. While women rule in Illvanna, in Zihrin and the neighboring countries, men rule, and women are worth very little. We also get some insight into another wedding ritual, life in the desert, and a little bit on mountain tribes.
While the prose might not be the poetry-like and denser prose like, for instance, with Robin Hobb, there are still plenty of beautiful sentences. And it does make it easier to read. There was a good balance between action and reflections, and I couldn’t detect any info dumps.
One thing I love about Kara’s writing is the banter between characters. She’s so great at it. Even if they are in the worst of situations, their snarky comments just put a smile on my face. The writing was also infused with emotion, and I went through several stages of excitement, anxiousness, and hurt. Great stuff.
“All air was sucked from my lungs and I sank to my other knee. My throat constricted painfully, and my chest tightened as my eyes settled on the person holding the sword to my throat.”
To conclude it all: Dance of Despair is a unique story featuring a strong woman who is trapped in a country vastly different from her own. She’s a fighter, but luck doesn’t seem to always be on her side. The book is great for YA and NA readers, who love action, easy-to-read prose, romance, and a great story that will leave you wanting more.