Darla Onomatopoeia is an amateur Grave Dancer, one of the few people in Manhattan who still practices the ancient, misty art. But unlike her mother, who once made a cemetery of Civil War veterans come to life and do the cha cha, Darla can barely raise her recently deceased grandmother long enough to teach the old bitty to line dance. And with the 3,000th Annual Grave Dance Competition coming in two months, she’s desperate to spruce up her skills to show all her Grave Dancing friends that she’s not a loser after all…
Enter Alex Craft, dance instructor extraordinaire. Having out-danced the Grave Witch of Brooklyn, Alex might be the only one who can turn Darla into an effective Grave Dancer. A half-immortal, half-fae wererabbit, Alex has the skills and determination Darla needs to teach the dead how to dance the “Thriller,” which hasn’t been done…ever. But Darla has another problem: an unexpected sexual tension between her and Alex. Can she resist Alex’s misogynistic charm and rustic good looks? Or will she let her baser instincts take over and sweep her wererabbit dance instructor off his furry little feet?
Grave Dance is a dark tome which hides a great deal of its world in misty obscurity. Price has created a remarkable piece of curvaceous eye-candy here, cleverly placing character traits at just right angle to direct the reader’s attention to the truly interesting aspects of Darla’s character. But she has also attempted to hide Darla’s past in a shroud, leaving a great deal to be discovered by the reader in future books.
One of the interesting aspects of the book is the fact that it is actually set on an alternate Earth. Many readers may find this as a shock, however, since the details that suggest this are few and far between. But the first clue would have to be the presence of two moons in the night sky. The second only appears every so often; Darla calls it Meus Mensis Salutor (or Sally for short; the name roughly translates to My Monthly Visitor, which tells me that Price didn’t want to hide the biting criticism of biblical fables in her work). We’re led to assume it’s some kind of comet, but Grave Dance is low on details about such things. The other giveaway is a little more obvious: namely, that the mayor of Manhattan, Gules W. Rudolpho, actually descends from an alternate dimension in which “a crusty old guy who survived a war and a special ed graduate who thought the moon was made of cheese” had run for president and vice president, respectively, and lost to someone Rudolpho describes as “the next best thing to a lefty” (126 and 155). Apparently the president of Earth in Price’s version is a vampiric werehamster with rabies (Price is fascinated with were-beings). Of course, the fact that NYC is called Manhattan should be another clue.
It’s these kinds of strange details that make Grave Dance an amusing read, even if its outer shell is essentially a cliche. And that’s probably the biggest problem: Grave Dance is overly focused on the cliches of the urban fantasy genre. In many respects, it is wholly indebted to what came before, from the stance its characters take to everything around them to the kind of scenery in which they live. True, the dance aspects are quite original, and set Price up for a “You Got Served” Literary Award, but it’s not clear that this novel will appeal to audiences who aren’t particularly interested in were-beings, predictable sexual tension, and low-level mist magic (Alex is apparently a mist mage, but this is not made clear until the climax and is never properly explained).
Still, despite the novel’s flaws, I suspect urban fantasy readers will enjoy reading the cloudy prose and gleaning the things Price has hidden below the surface. In that sense, it may be a success after all. But this reader will stick with dragons.
(A Book by its Cover is our new weekly column in which we review a book based solely on the cover, without any other knowledge of what it is about. Any similarities in our review to the book are purely coincidental and proof that we are awesome)