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The Dance of the Spirits

The Dance of the Spirits - Catherine Aerie 3.5 stars

Despite there being an abundance of genre fiction that could be referred to as Great American War Novels, these are mostly set during familiar military engagements such as World War's I & II, Vietnam, and the American Civil War, and I have never come across any historical novels focusing on the Korean War. Dance of the Spirits seems to be treading some new ground here, and I found it very refreshing to read about a time period that most authors of American literature rarely touch. The author has obviously done considerable research for her novel (the fact that she was born in Shanghai, where a large bit of the book takes place, lends her extended credibility) and therefore nothing seems anachronistic. It was nice when she occasionally took a break from the plot to intersperse some concise history lessons, eloquently switching from storyteller to teacher and then back again.

Aerie mainly uses two main characters, Jasmine and Wesley, and the budding love between them in the brief moments of serendipity that bring them together, to put a human face on this conflict. She develops these characters in a deeply compassionate way, making you care as if they were real people. At times the book even felt like a war biography and I forgot I was reading historical fiction, and I mean this as high praise; I think the sections relaying Jasmine's backstory and her job as a field medic were the strongest parts of the novel. In fact, I feel that the inclusion of multiple narratives wasn't necessary to hold interest; Jasmine was a strong enough character to carry the book on her own.

From a technical standpoint, Aerie is a very capable writer, but she does tend to overwrite her scenes. What I mean by this is that she will often use 2 or 3 adjectives in quick succession to describe one noun, which is fine when done occasionally, but too much of that will distract from the flow of the story, and this happens quite a bit. The editor could have done a better job cutting out these excess adjectives and adverbs; I also found several typos in my edition. While this regrettably detracts from the overall impact, the author has a good story to tell and I would still recommend it despite these nitpicks.

This is a debut novel, and it's apparent that this is a talented new author that fans of historical fiction should be watching. I enjoyed my time with her first effort and look forward to seeing what she writes next.

The print edition of this novel was generously provided by the author in return for an honest review.