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Literature / Shadow Dance Trilogy

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I cut off his hand, yet he thanks me for not doing worse. That is the power you must one day command. Let them think every breath of theirs is a gift, not from the gods, but from you.
Thren Felhorn

The Shadowdance Trilogy (Later Upgraded to the Shadowdance Series) by David Dalgish chronicles the childhood, training, and rise to power of Haern, the Watcher of Veldaren.

The trilogy consists of:

  • A Dance of Cloaks: Aaron has been groomed since birth to be heir of an underworld empire. Yet when sent to kill the daughter of a priest, Aaron instead risks his own life to protect her from the wrath of his guild. In doing so, he glimpses a world beyond poison, daggers, and the iron control of his father.
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  • A Dance of Blades: When the son of Alyssa Gemcroft, one of the three leaders of the powerful Trifect, is believed murdered, slaughter begins anew in the streets of Veldaren. Mercenaries flood the city with one goal in mind: find and kill Aaron, now known as Haern, the King's Watcher.
  • A Dance of Mirrors: Haern travels south to confront a copycat killer, finding a city ruled by the corrupt, the greedy, and the dangerous. Rioters fill the streets, and the threat of war with the mysterious elves hangs over all. To stop it, Haern must confront the deadly Wraith, and the man he might become.
  • A Dance of Shadows: Alyssa Gemcroft is threatened by The Widow, a Serial Killer, while a man named Victor Kane enters the city supposedly to destroy the corruption plaguing Veldaren. Another Thieves' Guild, the Sun Guild, also sets its sights on Haern's city.
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  • A Dance of Ghosts: Haern and Thren set off to confront the mysterious priest Luther, while Zusa fends off more threats to her mistress's life. In the Watcher's absence, an elf named Muzien takes control of Veldaren.
  • A Dance of Chaos: Haern and Thren attempt to remove Muzien, while The End of the World as We Know It looms near...

These books contain examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Both Thren and Leon Connington.
  • Action Girl: Zusa. She is one of the hand-full of people who can match Haern when it comes to fighting.
    • Delysia is no slouch either, implied to be one of the most powerful priestesses of Ashhur alive.
  • A Lighter Shade of Grey: Ashhur's faction may not be all good, but they're definitely the paler shade of grey, especially compared to Karak's.
  • Always Chaotic Evil: Karak's priests seem to always be Lawful Evil, with only a few exceptions.
  • Ambiguously Bi: Zusa seems to be attracted to Alyssa, but has a bunch of UST with Haern and sleeps with him in A Dance of Ghosts. A Dance of Chaos removes the ambiguity.
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  • And Now For Something Completely Different: Book 3 is set in a different town completely, with very few of the same characters and a lot more political intrigue and Fish out of Water scenarios as part of the plot.
  • The Antichrist: Nathaniel seems to be shaping up to be one. He turns out to be an Unwitting Pawn instead.
  • Apologetic Attacker: Ghost in A Dance of Ghosts.
  • Archnemesis Dad: Thren is this to Haern.
    • Melody Gemcroft becomes a female example after the fourth book.
  • Assimilation Plot: Karak's end goal is to turn the world into a Hive Mind of undead.
  • Back for the Dead: Ghost, in the fifth book.
  • Badass Normal: Both Thren and Haern.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Don't piss Delysia off, and don't back her into a corner. You'll regret it.
  • Bi the Way: Zusa.
  • Black and Gray Morality: There are multiple factions in the series and none of them have totally clean hands.
  • Black and White Morality: Followers of Ashhur see their war against Karak as this.
  • Blessed with Suck: Karak's "blessing" to Ghost. Sure, it gives him cool powers, but he essentially becomes a slave to Karak. He fights through it with Heroic Willpower long enough for Delysia to break the curse only to get killed two minutes later.
    • All of Karak's "blessed" seem to have this problem, from the Faceless to priests. It takes a lot of willpower to defy him.
  • Blue Blood: King Edwin, a particularly ineffective and cowardly king.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Tarlok to Delysia. Don't threaten his little sister, you'll regret it.
  • Broken Bird: Pretty much everyone in the series is broken to some extent.
  • Break the Badass: Haern, Zusa, and Delysia all go through a lot of breaking.
  • Came Back Wrong: While Ghost was Only Mostly Dead, his rehabilitation eventually brings him into this.
  • Casting a Shadow: Priests, Paladins, and Faceless Women of Karak do this.
  • Confusion Fu: Haern's cloakdance relies on him confusing the opponent enough to kill them quickly.
  • Crapsack World: The world the story takes place in is pretty wretched. You're more likely to get butchered in five different ways before breakfast than get a happy ending.
  • Death Seeker: Both Luther and Ghost.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Alyssa when she thinks her son is dead in A Dance of Blades.
    • Luther has already fell victim to his before his appearance, seeking out death for his role in the Sun Guild's takeover of Veldaren as the plaques they've erected to show their dominance are rigged to explode and reduce Veldaren into a smoky crater).
    • Both Haern and Zusa have fallen prey to this by the end of A Dance of Ghosts, leading to their Last Minute Hookup.
  • Disney Death: Nathaniel, though he loses an arm due to frostbite.
  • Don't You Dare Pity Me!: Zusa's attitude at the end of book 5.
  • The Dragon: Melody to Luther.
    • Grayson to Muzien.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Oh, yes very much so.
  • Empowered Badass Normal: Ghost becomes one due to Karak's "blessing".
  • The End of the World as We Know It: Apparently, Karak's prophet seems very intent on causing this...
  • Enfant Terrible: Aaron at the begining of Dance of Cloaks. Subverted as he's basically molded by his father, but still, he does kill his older brother. At age eight.
    • Nathaniel looked to be turning into one, but in the end he doesn't become one.
  • Evil Matriarch: Melody Gemcroft. Alyssa may also qualify, depending on where you see her on the morality scale.
  • Eye Scream: Happens to all The Widow's victims, including Alyssa.
  • Fantastic Racism: Humans towards elves, and elves towards humans.
  • Fat Bastard: Leon Connington, an obese Blue Blood.
  • For the Lulz: Deathmask and the Ash Guild, after he takes it over, operate on this principle. Supposedly.
  • Freak Out!: Haern has a big one when he finds out Ghost is alive, and Delysia has forgiven him.
  • Gambit Pileup: The series is starting to devolve into this, with several gambits all going off at once and spanners galore. It's starting to boil down to two main conflicts- Luther versus The Priests of Karak, and Thren vs Muzien.
  • Glass Cannon: Tarlok is one. He can dish out a lot of magical damage, but if anyone manages to get close enough to hit him, he goes down fast.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: Muzien not only mentored Grayson and Thren, but as a result of mentoring Thren is also responsible for the Watcher. Nice Job Fixing It, Villain!.
  • God of Good: Ashhur.
  • Handicapped Badass: Alyssa Gemcroft after book 4.
  • Healing Hands: Ashhur's priests in general can heal people.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Ghost, due to getting kicked around by Karak's priests one too many times and befriending a priest of Ashhur.
  • Heroic BSoD: Lord Victor Kane, Alyssa, Zusa and Haern all go through them.
  • I Have No Son!: Thren finally disowns Haern completely at the end of book 6.
  • Jack the Ripoff: The Widow.
  • Jumping Off the Slippery Slope: Victor Kane and Alyssa seem to both be going down this path.
  • Last Minute Hookup: Haern and Zusa.
  • Light 'em Up/Holy Hand Grenade: Delysia, and all the priests of Ashhur.
  • Mama Bear: Alyssa. Just try to look at Nathaniel funny and see what happens.
  • Man Behind the Man: Melody to Stephen, Luther to Melody.
  • Mentor Occupational Hazard: Everyone that becomes a father-figure to Haern ends up dead. Robert Haern. Senke. Everyone.
  • Mistreatment-Induced Betrayal: Ghost, betraying Karak's priests, and the Faceless Women in general.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Lots of them. The Watcher Of Veldaren, The Faceless Women, The Widow, The Wraith, Ghost, Deathmask, Muzien the Darkhand...
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain!: Had Muzien not taught Thren, Thren couldn't have made Aaron into the Watcher who eventually ends his plans.
  • Official Couple: Haern and Zusa seem to be this at the end of A Dance Of Ghosts, but seeing as they've both been pushed past the Despair Event Horizon... In the end, Haern and Delysia and Alyssa and Zusa are the official pairings, but Zusa is pregnant with Haern's child and intends on raising the baby.
  • Omnicidal Maniac: Karak's entire faction.
  • Only Mostly Dead: Ghost.
  • Order Versus Chaos: The followers of Karak see their war against Ashhur as this, with Karak as Order and Ashhur as Chaos. The truth seems to be the reverse.
  • The Paladin: Delysia.
  • Punch-Clock Hero: Tarlok, again, is supposed to be one, but evil always tends to piss him off enough that he'll do some heroic acts without pay just because he's upset.
  • Puppet King: King Edwin, by A Dance of Ghosts.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Ghost.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Alyssa, after she believes Nathaniel is dead. She spends her entire fortune on a week of slaughter and death.
  • Royal Brat: King Edwin. Even the man who raised him hates him.
  • Screw You, Elves!: Elves are either extremely apathetic or Lawful Evil in this universe, with only a handful of dissenters. Humans in general hate them.
  • Screw This, I'm Out of Here!: It takes Alyssa six books to finally give up on Veldaren and pack up, but she finally does it after killing her husband and taking Zusa back.
  • Serial Killer: Technically most of the main characters, but The Widow is a particularly nasty example.
  • Shoot The Shaggy Dog Story: Ghost's arc in book 5. Everything he does besides saving Zusa's life is eventually wasted.
  • Spanner in the Works: Delysia and Robert Haern were this to Thren's plans, Zusa was this to Melody's, and Haern has been to several.
  • The Evils of Free Will: Karak believes all free will must be eliminated and all of creation must be united in worshiping him.
  • Then Let Me Be Evil: Muzien. Originally he set out to get elves better treatment among humans. When his mission was rejected by Celestia's high priest, he doesn't take it well.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Delysia. Being trained as a priestess to a God of Good will do that.
  • Technical Pacifist: Delysia. She doesn't like killing people, preferring the healing arts, and generally won't even attack people unless she had absolutely no other choice.
  • Thanatos Gambit: Luther's plan revolved around getting Thren so pissed he came to kill him.
    • Thren's final plan involved Haern killing him, realizing they were the same, and taking over the guilds.
  • Training from Hell: Both Haern and Zusa went through it to become the people they are.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: Alyssa comes across as one in A Dance of Ghosts after being pressured into rejecting Zusa, the bodyguard who's saved her life dozens of times, for the sake of her marriage.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: Between Haern and Zusa. Either resolved in book five or complicated, depending on your point of view.
  • Unwitting Pawn: Several, including Steven to Melody and Nathaniel to Karak.
  • Villainous BSoD: Thren gets one when he first realizes the Watcher is his son.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Luther. He's manipulated Melody Gemcroft into turning on her daughter, helped orchestrate the Sun Guild's takeover of Veldaren, and plans on reducing the city into a smoking crater, all to prevent The End of the World as We Know It.
  • While Rome Burns: Alyssa in A Dance of Blades. She's caused the burning, but is so apathetic to the world at this point she doesn't care.
  • White Magician Girl: Delysia.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Lord Victor Kane starts out as this. He grows out of it very quickly.
  • Wild Card: Tarlok is technically this, but in practice he's always on Haern's side due to the Watcher's friendship with Delysia and the fact that people associate them with each other, and thus try to hurt him to get to Haern.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Nathaniel almost becomes one.
  • World of Badass: Almost everyone is a badass in some capacity in this universe.
  • Worthy Opponent: Haern has many over the course of the series. Zusa, Thren, Ghost, the Wraith, Muzien...
  • Would Hurt a Child: Thren, and pretty much any antagonist, would.
  • 0% Approval Rating: Everyone hates King Edwin, and by the fifth book in the series several factions are outright vying to replace him.


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