Dancer of the Sixth by Michelle Shirey Crean

In 2006 I forwarded myself a message board posting about science fiction/fantasy books with strong relationships, and then I promptly forgot about it. A month ago I was searching for something in my email and this old list showed up. There where a few books I’d already read and loved on there (Wen Spencer’s Tinker, Shards of Honor by Lois Mcmaster Bujold, Finders Keepers by Linnea Sinclair) so I spent some time eying the list and  Dancer of the Sixth caught my eye.  The cover with a pilot and her flighter jet interested me. After some googling it and finding positive reviews (and 15 5-star reviews on Amazon), I decided to order a used copy of the out of print book.

The Premise: Dancer is a member of the Sixth service, which is a secret arm of military intelligence who have no connections to their past lives – they’re dead as far as everyone else knows, and they run missions to ensure the safety of the galaxy. Dancer was presumed killed during the Lioth massacre by the Karranganthians, a violent race who were routed but still wait to catch their enemies unaware. One day during a patrol Dancer is surprised by a Gypsy flyer that lost control and had to make an emergency landing. And stepping out of the flyer is a disoriented exact replica of Dancer. A replica who uses the name Dancer had in her old life. The solution to this mystery is for Dancer to take her twin’s place in the Fourth Service Squadron (a aerial maneuver team which performs for the public).

My Thoughts: This is told in the third person with Dancer as the clear focus. It covers what Dancer and the sixth services’ response is to the twin, which is for Dancer to take her place and find out what’s going on, but that particular part of the book isn’t that long. What takes up much of it is a long flashback which covers how Dancer got into the Sixth Service in the first place — when she was found almost dead after the Lioth Massacre. We learn that Dancer barely made it and her healing took a long time. The writer takes the opportunity during her convalescence to for Dancer to recount her past (there are lost loves who Dancer cannot stop grieving over).  Then, once Dancer is well enough to move out of her medical confinement, we learn as she does about the Auryx, the dark haired people with minor telepathic ability who the Sixth Service is composed of. One of those men is the Commander, Michael, who is Dancer’s immediate supervisor and her unvoiced crush.

Dancer is one of those irrepressible heroines who won’t stop fighting even when her back is against the wall and all is lost. In some ways she’s a bit of a Mary Sue. She’s a pretty redhead ace pilot with an upbeat character and a dark past that is gradually revealed. She charms everyone with her charisma, and everyone is a little bit in love with her. Meanwhile she cannot seem to stop her interest in every man she meets in the story. The eying of someone’s fine figure or Dancer’s talk of being in love got a little trying, and it was often inappropriate (the suggestion of a sexual relationship with someone under the Sixth Service suspicion, the familiar touching of her supervisor). She’s supposed to have not taken a lover since she joined the Sixth service, but you wouldn’t know it by her casualness in discussing relationships. As the reader, I think we’re to hope that Dancer had moved on from her past and that she’d focus on the man who was in her present, but it is confusing how strong her feelings are for Makellen Darke, the Auryx man who sat with her through her recovery, and then disappeared as if he never was. The competition is smoothed over by the twist ending, but the many loves crowding Dancer’s life not to mention Michael’s position as her superior, makes the romance not as strong as I think it could have been.

The writing was good, especially the parts about flying, but I found it odd at times. Maybe it was the use of the word “child” by Michael and the Auryx for everyone else non-Auryx, maybe it was the inappropriateness I covered already. Maybe it was the old-fashioned aspect to the writing – a formal tone that overlaid everything. It was something I got used to but it sometimes made the book drag, and I found myself unable to read it without breaks.

There are some interesting ideas here and it’s a good first book, and it’s too bad there doesn’t seem to be any more books by Crean. It does feel that this could have been the start to a series because the end leaves us with the implication that that is not all to be expected from the Karranganthians.  However, the relationship and the story of this book does have a conclusion, although there may be some reading between the lines you have to do.

Overall: Not a bad book (I liked the ideas and the world building), and although it’s slow at times, it was an nice read for a science fiction fan. The relationships are a big part of the story, yet I think romance could have been better. I would have read the second book if there was one.

Buy: Amazon | Powells

Other Reviews:
Romantic sf – a mix of opinions there
pick locker – “I’m veering between recommending the book, to not recommending it.” (I found this blogger because of their review for this book!)

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