Sunday, July 3, 2011

Review of Kalayna Price's Grave Dance

This weekend’s trip to Barnes and Noble was a real winner. Not only did I find an early copy of Diana Rowland’s My Life as a White Trash Zombie, I also sniggled an early copy of Kalayna Price’s Grave Dance, the second book in her Alex Craft series. So naturally I have spent the last few days devouring books, instead of grilling out or spending time at the pool like everyone else celebrating the Fourth of July. But let’s face it, this is the only way I’ll be able to maintain my lovely pasty-white skin tone, and that is always a goal of mine. Wrinkles? Who needs ‘em! If I were fae or a witch like the residents of Nekros City, the setting of Grave Dance, I could glamour or charm those wrinkles away, but that is not the case. It was so fun to read this second installment of the Alex Craft series, but I have to warn you that this novel is much more complex than the first. You’ll definitely want to spend your time reading it so you don’t miss anything important. If you haven’t read the first book in the series, Grave Witch, you might want to skip this review, because there are definite spoilers in this discussion of the sequel.
I thought Grave Witch was fascinating, and Grave Dance is no different. Alex Craft is a grave witch, and she makes a living raising the dead. She works frequently with the police, raising the shades of victims of crimes so the police can prosecute criminals, but she also works with families and friends of the deceased for many other reasons. Grave Dance begins in a swamp with Alex assisting the police with an odd case. They’ve recovered several left feet that have been severed from their bodies and need Alex to raise the shades of the corpses so the police can find a potential serial killer. Unfortunately, Alex needs more of a body to work with than just a foot, but while helping the police look through the swamp for bodies, she discovers a stash of more left feet, hidden behind a fae glamour. Suddenly the case becomes infinitely more complex, as the police have to call in the FIB, the Fae Investigation Bureau. Alex has a strange relationship with the FIB, because she worked closely with FIB investigator Falin Andrews in the last book. He’s also one of her love interests, with her other a soul collector Alex calls Death. When Alex starts investigating the feet she discovered in the swamp, she and her friends are attacked by magic constructs intent on killing her. Add to that the Winter Queen’s round up and incarceration of independent fae in Nekros City, and the case suddenly becomes much more complicated.
The complexity of this novel makes it difficult to review without spoilers, but I will do my best. We get more of the love triangle in this novel, with Falin returning to see Alex after disappearing for nearly a month and Death appearing in his role as soul collector. It’s difficult to see how either of these romances with Alex will resolve themselves in future books, but there are intriguing hints that it is possible for at least one of them. While Falin’s position as assassin and lover to the Winter Queen complicates any future with Alex, her relationship with Death is pivotal to solving this mystery. Death’s fellow collectors also make an appearance, although they are once again reticent to share information with Alex and prevent Death from doing so as well.
We also see how Alex’s previously unknown fae heritage causes difficulties for her life in Nekros City. In Grave Witch we discovered that her father is fae, and since the showdown  at the end of that novel, Alex’s fae blood has started to attract interest. If she possesses enough fae blood to visit Faerie and leave without consequences, she’ll have to declare allegiance to a fae court, which she wants to avoid. Unfortunately, during her investigation she attracts the attention of the Winter Queen, with frightening consequences for her and many of her friends.
I loved the intricate plot of this novel, but it is complex and that might not work for everyone. I think you can follow along if you haven’t read the first book, although I highly recommend that you do read that book first, since Alex’s relationships and abilities as a grave witch are explained in more depth there. The various twists and turns in Grave Dance kept me on the edge of my seat, waiting to see what would happen next and how the mystery would resolve itself. While the ending is definitely not a cliffhanger, there are a lot of unanswered questions about Alex’s abilities and relationships. The focus of this novel is more on her relationships with friends and the world of Faerie than we saw in the first, which I liked.
I do have a few small quibbles with parts of the book, though. Early on Alex receives a note from her friend Rianna, who is now a changeling in Faerie. Rianna asks Alex to visit her at the Eternal Bloom, a fae hangout, and the results of their meeting are significant in exposing more of Alex’s fae heritage. However, there is no further contact with Rianna in the novel and Alex doesn’t return to the part of Faerie that she visits with her friend. Given how early in the novel this scene takes place, I kept waiting to see how this would play out, and it really didn’t. The timing of the scene felt abrupt as well, since Alex had initiated her investigation and was clearly in some danger but then up and goes to the Eternal Bloom and visits Faerie. It definitely broke up the flow of the action. Also, later in the novel Alex’s father makes a brief visit, and once again we are left with a few small hints about Alex’s childhood and connections to Faerie, but these are not explained and don’t seem to go anywhere. It’s clear that in subsequent novels Alex will be forced to interact more with Faerie, and presumably these issues will be addressed then, but the timing of the scene with Rianna in particular was jarring.
Overall, I would give this book 3.5 stars out of 5. I liked the complexity of the novel but at times there were dramatic and abrupt changes in the direction of the plot, most of which were resolved eventually but not all. Either way, I’m definitely looking forward to future installments of this series.

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