As I said about Joe Abercrombie after reading THE HEROES not to long ago, “where has THIS guy been all this time? I want more!” With that encouraging start, The January Dancer (henceforth TJD) is the first story in a Space Opera series called “The Spiral Arm”. I’ve seen reference to Michael Flynn in relation to what is being called “the New Space Opera”, which, I suppose lumps him in with the late great Iain Banks and other writers. There was not that much “new” about this Space Opera, it was a classic MacGuffin story with twists, betrayals, galactic empires, agents, space cops and space pirates. What’s not to love?
TJD relates the story of the discovery of an enigmatic pre-human artifact called “The Twisting Stone” or “The January Dancer” or just ‘the Dancer’ in the story. The artifact is discovered on a backwater planet where a tramp freighter captained by Amos January laid in to repair a malfunction. The crew discovers a room full of fascinating and potentially enriching artifacts, only one of which (The Dancer) can they actually leave with, and that by the skin of their teeth, almost. It is revealed (gradually) that the stone has the psychic power of commanding almost instant obedience to the person who wields it. The artifact attracts the attention of some powerful players and changes hands several times throughout the story; In the end, it is revealed just how much the artifact itself exuded a subtle influence on galactic affairs. I like Flynn’s prose style, which is chatty, subtle and observational. All his characters, save perhaps for “the Hudir”, lapse into first person narrative from time, so their story is consistent with what we know in the setting Flynn provides. I really like Flynn’s culture and setting. Somewhere, somehow, the Irish and Scots have become power players in this universe, as everyone seems to be speaking with a Gaelic accent. The story unwinds until it arrives at a very satisfactory (low key, but surprising) conclusion. Flynn buries the artifact story inside a meta-layer of narrative where the story is being told by an ancient (never named) man and a young Harper with secrets of her own. I didn’t’ care for this part that much; I found it distracts from the greater artifact story and almost derails it a few times. With that said, I loved the setting and the place names. January Dancer read through very quickly (4 days, not hurrying) and is an easy read to get into. I’ll definitely be looking into the work of Mr. Flynn in the near future. A great discovery.