Five Dances With Death

For the record, this is a free book review. I even paid for my copy of Five Dances myself. For an explanation of why I agreed to do another free book review after vowing not to do them ever again, read yesterday’s post, “Words are Yummy.”

Five Dances With Death: Dance One. Austin Briggs. 2011. Helvetic Press.

If stories of human sacrifice and Aztec magic are your thing, then I recommend Briggs’s work of historical fantasy, Five Dances With Death, without reservation. Go and buy it now. If you’re not necessarily into that sort of thing, you might want to reserve judgment until you’ve read the full review.

Five Dances tells the story of the protagonist, Angry Wasp, a warrior of a small Aztec nation searching for his kidnapped daughter while his people are being threatened by both the arrival of the Spanish and the stifling reign of Montezuma.

An integral part of the storytelling in Five Dances revolves around Wasp’s wife’s expertise in black magic. She teaches him to navigate the Void, leading to several out-of-body scenes in the book. If I’m honest, these scenes were difficult for my brain to process. Rather than take them for what they were and maintain my reading momentum, I’d get hung up on the allegory asking myself, “But what does it all mean?” And though it may well have been that way by design, I found it slightly discouraging. I felt a little lost at times—not a feeling I particularly enjoy as a reader.

That said, I was always relieved to return to the more straightforward narration, and I found the bits of action enthralling. Sacrificing humans to appease the gods? Cutting out their beating hearts? That’s some fascinating stuff, folks, and Briggs writes the blood and gore very well. Without being too over the top, his depictions made me wince as I imagined what it must have been like to have lived in that place at that time.

Which brings me to more praise for Briggs’ work. If you visit his website, he explains that he spent “10 years researching the history of the Aztec Empire and the Spanish conquest.” I totally believe it. Five Dances illustrates a mastery of historical context.

(A quick aside: while I was gathering affiliate links to include in this post, I noticed one Amazon reviewer mentioned a glossary at the beginning of the book.  It would have been nice to know that before I started reading. The Kindle apparently skips forward beyond this section. So, Kindle owners? Turn back a few pages when you open the book. You’re welcome.)

A final word. If you know me at all, you know that I’m rather vocal about my loathing of self-published works. They are notoriously full of typos, sport atrocious cover designs and commonly lack substance. Not the case with Five Dances With Death. I mean, I did notice a typo, but it’s nice to be able to attribute that to inevitable human error rather than absolute carelessness for once. And, yeah, I’m looking forward to Dance Two.

Words are Yummy

If you’ve never seen my Twitter bio, it reads thusly: Freelance copywriter sharing, selling, and sometimes eating her words since 2003.

People think I’m just being funny with that whole eating-my-words spiel, but I do mean it. And really, I don’t mind eating them every now and again. Just to prove it, I’m going to chew a few right now.

The Backstory

Remember that time I got myself all worked up into a book reviewer’s huff because a few authors—or perhaps the PR hacks they hired to manage their social media accounts (one can never be too sure these days)—had the nerve to keep asking me for special favors?

Well, my Crank-O-Meter™ went off the charts when that one lady asked me to take her self-published book about racing to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, snap a fan girl picture of myself with the book, and then follow up by posting said photo on Facebook in addition to reviewing her work.

Typing that out just now? I still can’t believe it.

Anyway, after that I basically told all authors—even the good ones who respect my time—that they could say goodbye to free book reviews on my blog. All because a few bad apples had spoiled the bunch.

Here’s where I start masticating.

Tomorrow I’m going to review a book.

For free.

I know, I know! But I have good reasons for making an exception this time. (The general policy still stands, however. Don’t press your luck people.)

What It Takes to Get a Free Book Review

So what did the author of tomorrow’s book do to merit a coveted free review on Suess’s Pieces? I’ll tell you.

  • He never asked me to read his book. I had been to his website and blog, decided odds were good that his book was totally worth the $.99 Kindle price, and read the book without being pitched by the author or a PR rep.
  • He did me a solid first. I asked him to help judge Writers’ Week entries last month, and he said yes.
  • He understands how the world works. I don’t get many cold calls these days, but I do get more than enough cold emails from people who want something for nothing. It’s refreshing to be approached by someone who actually took the time to read my content and engage in the conversations that take place here on my blog first. This is real online social engagement*—something a lot of authors and even a few self-proclaimed PR “gurus” just don’t seem to get.
  • He said thank you. When I finish Kindle books, I use the nifty little share button to Tweet my accomplishment. He saw that little announcement, Tweeted back, and followed up later with an email politely asking me whether I would consider reviewing his book, since I had already finished it. He thanked me for my time, no matter what my decision.

As I explained to Austin Briggs, author of Five Dances with Death, the book review fees I posted are really just bad book repellant. They’re designed to pay for my time reading books I might not otherwise pick up. Since I read his book for leisure, it seemed skeevy to charge him for the reading part ex post facto.

So all of this is just my terribly long-winded way of telling you that tomorrow I’m going to review his book, and he didn’t pay me to do it.

*I could write an entire novel about the shady, inconsiderate PR industry, but I won’t because The Bloggess seems to have covered that whole mess quite eloquently already.

Photo credit: Cjcj

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