Innowen is cursed. And blessed. And cursed.
Born crippled, one night his life is changed forever when his caretaker is bitten by a snake. The beautiful witch who comes to his calls for help not only saves his caretaker's life, but gives Innowen back the use of his legs, for a price. Every night he can walk -- but he must dance. Once the sun rises, his legs are useless once again.
But worse; if anyone sees Innowen dance, they are forced to enact their deepest, darkest desire. And that leads to tremendous consequences, not only for Innowen, but for his closest friends, and for his nation.[return][return]Raised up out of the mud and adopted by a lord with a past of his own, he sets out on a quest to once again find that beautiful witch who saved his life, and discovers that little of his life is exactly as it has seemed to be.
A dark fantasy in the truest sense, Shadowdance is a bronze aged exploration of the meaning of love, life and the essence of what is good or evil. Honestly, there is very little magic involved in this book – what is there, aside from the beginning of the book and Innowen’s salvation, is subtle, and only used by the witch.
Shadowdance is the very definition of a character-driven fantasy novel. The plot in this book is thin and sometimes very secondary, while Innowen’s own self-discovery remains paramount. But that’s okay, because if the plot was more dominant, the book simply wouldn’t work.
The plot itself is based on Innowen’s search for the witch, a quest that was inspired by his love. This leads to a number of different questions about love, as Innowen attempts to discover what love truly is. The search for the meaning of love covers a number of different areas, and doesn’t shy away from some of the darker topics, including that of rape, and the feelings of guilt and feelings of self-blame that follow it. Bailey also explores homosexual love, and how it can grow out of the extremes of friendship and loyalty; in the time period he chose to base his book, love between two men was not ethically questionable, which allowed him to talk about it without any of the ensuing baggage that might accompany it in any other setting. For his treatment of it, I applaud him.
I must admit that I don't tend to like Robin Wayne Bailey's books. A lot of them tend to come across as really shallow to me, but this one is worth a look. I've always enjoyed the absolute uniqueness of this storyline. So, if you are looking for a book to torment your soul, pass this one by. If you’re looking for epic fantasy, don’t bother. If you really like character-driven fantasy and/or enjoyed Lynn Flewelling's The Bone Doll's Twin, or the definitely take a look at this book. It’s dark, but not too much so, and definitely asks an interesting question. It reminds me a lot of a thought experiment more than a fantasy novel, and it works very well for what it is.