DISCLAIMER: I received an ARC (Advanced Reader’s Copy) from the author in exchange for an honest review.
Dzune. A land of myth and power, of stunning architecture and dunes. It is a land obscured by the spiritual as well as the mundane, a helical parallel of many things. It is a complex land. Essentially, Dzune is steeped in Navaho culture, their text and subtext, which was a refreshing surprise, given that Nick Wisseman writes fantasy and science fiction.
The Battle Dancer, a prequel to his admirable The Red Wraithseries, is more concerned with character development and less about plot. Which is not to suggest an uninteresting premise. That’s not it at all. The plot is impressive and unique on many levels, in fact. I was immediately intrigued.
Of myths and legends
According to www.navajoindian.net:
”The Navajo culture and traditions were much geared towards their family life. Many of the Navajo Indian games and traditions were developed because of their love for land and their attachment to it. The games they play were mostly developed in the long winter nights when the reservation was secluded to amuse and entertain themselves.
The Navajo culture is big into ceremonies and rituals. Their performances are usually four days, two days, or one day. Although some chants could be as long as nine days and require dozens of helpers. The most important ceremonies are the ones for treatment of ills, mental and physical. The Navajo are also very big into nature, so almost every act of their life is a ceremony of nature, including their building of the hogan, or the planting of the crops. All the Navajo culture ceremonies are included with songs and prayers.
In the Navajo culture and traditions there are over 24 different Chantway ceremonies preformed by singers, and over twelve hundred different sandpainting designs that are available to the medicine men.
The Navajo culture used Sandpainting as a spiritual way to heal the sick. When they sandpainted, they made the painting in a smooth bed of sand, which was only temporary. Crushed yellow ochre, red sandstone, gypsum, and charcoal were used to create the images during their chants. The chants were for the Earth people and the holy people to come back into harmony, which provides them protection and healing.
In the Navajo culture, color has many symbolic meanings. For an example a single color can have many different meanings, it all depends on the context in which the color is used. The four main colors used are black, white, yellow, and blue. As part of the Navajo culture and traditions, these colors define direction. Black is referred to as north, white represents east, blue represents south, and yellow is represented as west. The colors could also represent the time of day. Black could be referred to as night, White could be referred to as dawn, blue could be referred to as day, and yellow could be referred to as dusk.”
Throughout The Battle Dancer, the Sun Father and one “bloodthirsty war” deity were referenced, both for authenticity and intrigue, but lacking in any real substance. I think that with a little more information, Wisseman could have elevated the folklore into something truly fascinating; to a character all its own.
This was a bit of challenge to rate and review, as being a prequel, the story is incomplete. This was merely the beginning. I was expecting an end culminating in violence and disease, as suggested by prior events, as well as Tay’s premonitions, some of which are accurate, while others are not.
Constructive criticism: a staggering lack of pathos. This made it hard to care about and connect with the characters. Yet somehow, Wisseman provided sufficient background information about Tay’s person, none of which were dull. She felt like a unique creation, through and through. Said details nearly fascinated me; they certainly intrigued me more with every page. I desired to know her (and especially Naysin) more intimately, but I’m willing to let that go, on the presumtion that Wisseman built on those strengths throughout The Red Wraith.
Although his prose was simplistically well-written, the language itself was less than authentic. One could argue that, in light of the author’s penchant to infuse the historical into his fiction, this was an attempt to blend the ancient with the present, to transcend both genres. It was a bold attempt and it’s admirable, but ultimately, it didn’t work for me. Fantasy should feel authentic. More than that, it should ring true to the era and language with which they spoke.
Granmtically, everything else was consistently correct. The only aspect that stuck out were the numerous instances of ellipses. There’s a difference when you see this in dialogue (which is quite common,) and when it’s in the body of the narrtive itself. The latter is something else entirely. I might even dismiss this if it was used sparingly, but it happened a lot. These unattractive paragraphs ended abruptly, unfinished, thoughts rendered incomplete.
My opinions notwithstanding, I’m very much looking forward to reading the next book. There’s a place in my heart forTay and Naysin, as well as the Navaho culture.
Thank you again, Nick. It was a pleasure.