The Temple Dancer
by John Speed
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The Temple Dancer / 0-312-32548-7
"The Temple Dancer" is a fine first novel for a promising new author, although I am surprised by the description's reference to a "proposed trilogy", given the rather 'final' nature of the epilogue. Though not without its faults, the novel is an engaging read and is worth a look, particularly for fans of the genre.
To give credit to the author, the story is engaging and moves along nicely, with the exposition as fascinating and well written as the action. Speed has also finely captured his female characters, which can be a difficult feat for a male author writing about such easily stereotyped characters as the Exotic Temple Dancer and Spoiled Heiress. Yet Speed's women resist stereotyping and show great resilience and strength of character in the turmoil that faces them. The male characters are, mostly, also very well done, with the 'tired old soldier' stereotype fleshed out nicely here as the men grapple with their own lives and whether they are brave enough to risk or even discard their futures for the women they have come to love and admire.
Not all of the characters are so thoroughly fleshed out, though. Speed's "unlikely villain" seems to be almost impossibly evil and conniving - carefully disposing of every member of his family over the course of many years in order to place himself closer to his family's fortune. In addition to these carefully manipulated murders, he seems to take sadistic delight in the torments the women suffer on their journey, and while it may be said that evil does not need a reason to be evil, it would be a nice inclusion to understand what motivates this man to be so cruel. Speed also relies heavily on misunderstandings, poor communication, and just plain stupidity of characters to advance the plot, which I hope he will trim to a minimum for his next novel.
(Example: When an old, frail man who is openly taking arsenic as 'medicine' dies of arsenic overdose, it seems unreasonable for *everyone* in the camp to immediately assume it was murder. It is just as likely that he took to much medicine or that his age and frailty couldn't handle the strain, and at least a few people should have voiced doubts as to the certainty of murder.)
This book is labeled historical fiction and Speed certainly takes care with the details and much of the overlay here seems genuine. A secret, powerful cabal of eunuchs seems to stretch the imagination slightly, and it also seems a powerful coincidence that the dancer - Maya - is carrying the long-lost treasure that they lost so many years ago, and an even further coincidence that the eunuch chosen to escort her to her new life is the very same one who lost the treasure so long ago! Nor is this incredible string of coincidences ever adequately explained, but rather it is just left as one of those mystical convergences that just happen. Although it did not detract much from my enjoyment of this story, I hope that the next novel from this author relies a little less on coincidence to drive the plot. In fact, I think a little less coincidence and more of the mostly superb character development could result in a fine novel indeed.
~ Ana Mardoll
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