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The January Dancer    by Michael Flynn order for
January Dancer
by Michael Flynn
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2008 (2008)
Hardcover, Audio, CD

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

It's unusual to find such lyrical writing in an SF novel as in Michael Flynn's excellent space opera January Dancer, set in a universe whose cultures and conflicts have been limned with consummate skill. Readers know they're in good hands at the first lines: 'Everything in the universe is older than it seems. Blame Einstein for that ... Ancient stars exploded into ruin before their sparkle ever caught our eyes; those glimpsed in glowing "nurseries" were crones before we witnessed their birth. Everything we marvel at is already gone.'

More than beautiful writing and a fascinating universe, Flynn gives readers a rousing tale (with a strong Irish flavor) filled with battles and heroes, and a quest upon which rests the fate of mankind. It all begins with the discovery of a prehuman artefact - a twisting lump of sandstone - on an unnamed planet by the crew of free trader New Angeles under Captain Amos January. The reader learns of it, along with a green-eyed, red-haired ollamh (harper and bard), in a bar on Jehovah, as a scarred man of 'of remnants and shadows' begins to recount the epic story to her.

The mystery man introduces the bard - and those of us who listen in the shadows - to the questors, starting with Little Hugh O'Carroll, the Ghost of Ardow, who led the Loyalists in an ugly civil war on volcanic New Eireann. He escapes on New Angeles, which leaves the 'little prehuman statue' in the hands of ICC Colonel Jumdar. Next we meet Greystroke, 'the man no one sees' and a Pup of Na Fir Li, one of the Hounds of the Ardry of High Tara. Greystroke's master sends him on a mission to find a Confederate spy named Donovan, a player of the Great Game.

Captain January's ship berths next on Jehovah, where the Fudir (one of the universally despised Terrans) hears of the artefact. He believes that there might 'float a bean of truth in the pot of legend' and that it might be the mind manipulating Twisting Stone, which could give his people 'back the Earth.' After saving Hugh O'Carroll's life, the Fudir persuades him to sign on to the New Angeles with him. They return to New Eireann which they find devastated by pirates, and where they join forces with Greystroke. The final player is a female Hound, enchantress Bridget ban, whose mission for Na Fir Li takes her to Peacock Junction. There she the other three questors on the trail of the Twister.

Which is fine as long as they only seek it, but what will happen when they find it? They all have different plans to exploit its powers, for varying ends. Michael Flynn takes his gripping tale to an extraordinary conclusion, leaving readers guessing at the identities of both harpist and storyteller, and wondering about the 'story for another day' mentioned by the latter. The January Dancer, a must read for SF fans, has left me anxious to seek out the author's other works. Don't miss this one!

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