The first book in a sci-fi series.

Publication year: 2008
Format: print
Page count: 350
Publisher: Tor

I wanted to like this book more than I did. It’s the book of the month for the Space Opera Fans group in GoodReads.

The January Dancer begins with a frame story: a nameless female harper in the Bar talks with a scarred man who tells her the story of the Dancer or Twisting Stone. They are on Jehovah, a planet which seems to be populated by religious humans who are against liquor but allow this one Bar to exist.

The Dancer is an artefact made by prehuman aliens (supposedly). We follow Amos January and his crew when they find the Dancer and three other prehuman objects. The others can’t be moved but January takes the Dancer. It seems that death and destruction follows the object because soon everyone wants it.

But January doesn’t have it anymore. He traded it to New Eireann’s planetary manager in exchange for repairs and promise of a percentage from future sale of the object to the director of the Interstellar Cargo Company. January and his crew are seen a couple of more times but we actually follow other characters.

Little Hugh O’Carroll is a former rebel leader, or the leader of the actual planetary government, depending on your point of view. But he’s in exile, at least until a mysterious figure calling himself the Fundir offers Hugh a chance to get his planet, the New Eireann, back without bloodshed. The Fundir is apparently an agent of much more powerful people.

The other POV characters are servants of na Fir Li. They are sort of policemen. One of them is an expert in moving without being seen and the other is the only woman POV character. She’s drop-dead gorgeous and uses sex as a weapon, leaving broken hearts in her wake (eye roll). Their boss sends them out for other jobs but they are drawn to the Dancer.

The setting is far into the future. Humanity has spread into the stars. The biggest powers currently are Confederation of Central Worlds and the United League of the Periphery. Something has happened to old Earth and a group of people, called the Terrans, want to return to it but can’t. They live in slums (called the Terran Corners) and the others look down on them. Also, apparently people don’t invent new technology anymore. Newton and Einstein are gods and science is religion.

Other human groups seem to be based on cultures from India and old Celts. Some of the cultural stuff I rather enjoyed and I would have want to know more about the setting and the prehumans. Unfortunately, the characters didn’t grab me at all and the plot felt needlessly complicated. Also, there are heavy infodumps when introducing Hugh and later the interstellar police. But on the other hand, some stuff is left (I suspect intentionally but frustratingly) unclear. And the characters speak in a variety of pidgin English. While most of it was clear, some of it was pretty hard to understand.

Interesting ideas and structure but it just didn’t fully work for me.