Book Reviews

The Dance of Dawn & Dusk: Dawn

The once mighty empire of Weiquan lies shattered by years of strife following the Red Rebellion. Now aristocrat and commoner alike struggle to stay alive as they find themselves caught in the machinations of ruling forces striving for supremacy in the great game of power. Ai, a girl barely old enough to be called a woman, must meet her destiny once a profound truth is revealed to her. Li'qua Zhang, the young prince celebrated as a great warrior, is but a fly in the web of intrigue that is life at court. The deposed dowager empress, Roulan Xu, mourns the loss of her children; now all she has left to live for is vengeance against her captors. The brilliant, bold, and beautiful Bei Bei: Daughter of the Dragon, heir to the kingdom of Leng, has come to work her father's will upon all who may oppose him. A wandering priest from the backwoods finds the splendorous imperial capitol has become a ruined society fallen to corruption and despair. Tien Chang is a loyal soldier who seeks to prove himself worthy but must also confront the dark truths that lie at the heart of his king's war. Tis all petty drama before the stars. The dance of dawn and dusk is eternal.

This may be an indictment of the breadth of my reading, but upon reading Brady Caleb Wilkinson’s The Dance of Dawn & Dusk: Dawn (which I’ll refer to as the simplified, subtitle-free The Dance of Dawn & Dusk from here on out), I found it refreshing. While epic fantasies are quite common (this is the seventh book in the genre I have reviewed—since March; I’m averaging just under one a month), less common are fantasies that take their cues from non-Western mythology. Instead, The Dance of Dawn & Dusk is firmly based within Chinese mythology. While I have a passing knowledge of Chinese mythology, magic and spirituality, this unfortunately doesn’t extend much further than Wu Cheng-en’s Journey to the West (seeing it mentioned in the book’s acknowledgements put a smile on my face).

One thing that is clear from reading the introduction, and cemented in the aforementioned acknowledgements is Wilkinson’s love and respect for Chinese mythology and literature. This is underscored in the introduction’s note about pronunciations, where the author notes that while this story takes its cues from the Eastern world, the book is being sold to a presumed Western audience. As a result, he notes that the character’s names and terms are written with Western audiences in mind, and the disparity between Pinyin and English translations. Opening the book and reading the author’s thoughts about this pronunciation, and reading the acknowledgements was a great insight into the care that Wilkinson has taken with his novel.

At 432 pages in paperback, 484 in hardcover and an estimated 406 swipes in eBook format, like many epic fantasies, The Dance of Dawn & Dusk is not a short book. There is a lot going on in this story, with many characters residing across a vast world. The book’s blurb (included above this review for posterity) mentions five characters, and this does not scratch the surface. With the number of characters included in the novel, I did have a little difficulty following them all, as well as their stories.

I will concede that a good deal of that difficulty comes down to my attention span more than the book itself, however, if you prefer books with smaller casts and less going on across the world, The Dance of Dawn & Dusk may not be for you. The cast of characters featured is truly George R.R. Martin-esque in its breadth, and you really have to hand it to Wilkinson for not just keeping all these characters straight, but for doing so without them veering off in their own directions. Where the number of characters could result in a mess, Wilkinson nimbly avoids this. I also appreciated the additional touch of naming each chapter after its point of view character, along with an approximate date.

The cast isn’t the only Martin-esque aspect of The Dance of Dawn & Dusk (and neither is the title, for that matter). Like Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire (or Game of Thrones, if you’re more familiar with the TV series), this is a tale about power, about the people who wield this power, and also about the use—and more importantly, the misuse—of said power. This has resulted in a violent story set in a world full of brutality. However, while this tale is bloody and the author does not shy away from it, neither does he linger on it. There is plenty of death and destruction throughout the novel, and the book provides the necessary detail to get this across, and while certain acts are gruesome, at no point does it resemble torture porn.

While the author does not spend too much time focusing on the more gruesome aspects in his book, I did find myself wishing he had spent a little more time with other aspects of the prose. While it is largely very well written, there are a number of instances where the book skirts around details, or doesn’t provide many of them. Perhaps this is my fantasy-trained brain, used to long and winding descriptions that leave little to the imagination. However, during these points, it impacted the pace and momentum. Oftentimes, the book was also very high on dialogue. While I appreciate strong dialogue, which Wilkinson provided throughout the story, in many parts of the book, I found that there was a lot of back and forth between the characters, with very little to break it up.

One great thing that Wilkinson (or his formatter, if this was outsourced) accomplished with the dialogue was less about the words themselves, and more about the use of different fonts and font sizes for eerie dialogue coming from eerie mystical characters. This is a trick that is often used in comic books and graphic novels, and works wonders in the visual medium. It is far less common in novels, where the visuals are simply words on a page, or a screen—but it works resoundingly well. The text is off kilter and stands out. While this poses the risk of pulling the reader out of the story, in The Dance of Dawn & Dusk, at least, it heightened the suspense and sense of danger in the story. I will note, however, that I was reading a PDF, presumably what will be used for the physical book. As eBooks offer less formatting functionality and options, I am curious to see how this is accomplished in the digital version.

As you can probably gauge from the book’s full title, The Dance of Dawn & Dusk: Dawn, this is part of a series. The second book in the series, The Dance of Dawn & Dusk: Day is mentioned in the book’s backmatter, and the author’s website (check the link below), mentions that there will be five books in the series. For any fan of epic fantasy tales, this should not be a surprise, but it is worth noting, particularly in lieu of a subtitle or series reference on the cover. I will say, however, that the novel tells an entire story, and while there is certainly more to come, it does not come at the expense of this story.

If you are a fan of fantasy, or if you’re a fan of Eastern mythology (particularly when the author is evidently knowledgeable about the subject matter), The Dance of Dawn & Dusk is a worthwhile read, with some excellent touches. While I had some trouble keeping track of the characters, and despite my reservations about the lack of detail in areas, I still enjoyed my time with it. Take a look; you’ll likely enjoy your time with it, too.

Favourite Passage

Some of the crowd groaned and some of them gasped in horror. The crone smiled with a large toothy grin.

“With each human he ate a little bit of his soul was lost. His skin turned white like a corpse, his teeth grew sharp, and his eyes turned black as cold oblivion. He ate entire villages and eventually devoured his own crew. With no one to operate his ship he made a pact with the true cosmic horrors. If he could swim the seas forever, he would be their vessel. Having heard his plea, the Nightmares beyond the stars made him into a shark unlike any other, a true demon of the depths! Now he preys upon the ports of man, bringing death and despair to all!”

The Dance of Dawn & Dusk: Dawn, ”Ai (Fire Moon, 771 A.X.)”

The Dance of Dawn & Dusk: Dawn was provided by the author’s representative for the purpose of an honest review.

The Dance of Dawn & Dusk: Dawn will be available in both physical and eBook forms from 5 November 2021. This will be available in paperback from Amazon and Barnes & Noble, hardcover from Barnes & Noble, and eBook via Kindle and Kobo readers.

You can follow Brady Caleb Wilkinson online, via:

Note: I do not post scores on reviews on this website, but do post them on my Amazon and Goodreads reviews:

  • Amazon – To be posted upon the book’s release
  • Goodreads

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