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*Dance of the Assassins: The Devil's Dances Trilogy* by Herve Jubert- young adult fantasy book review

Also by Herve Jubert:

The Devil's Dances Trilogy #2: Devil's Tango

Dance of the Assassins: The Devil's Dances Trilogy
by Herve Jubert
Grades 9+ 528 pages Eos October 2006 Paperback    

Dance of the Assassins by Herve Jubert, a dark and engrossing crime novel of mystery, witchcraft, Satanism, and suspense, is a page-turner about the unlikely teaming up of the detective and witch Roberta Morgenstern of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) in England with Clement Martineau, a sergeant and assistant editor with the Contracts Section, Ministry of Security, and heir to Martineau Cement Industries. Dance of the Assassins pits this intrepid detective duo against four of the worst killers in history: Jack the Ripper, Catherine La Voisin, Antonio Palladio, and Montezuma. The assassins have formed a Killers’ Quadrille to try to lure the Devil himself to make an appearance and to force him to live up to the terms of a contract involving all four of them.

Count Antonio Palladio’s pact with the Devil has enabled him to be almost immortal, but entropy still holds destructive sway over his body, aging him like the picture of Dorian Gray. To compensate, he clouds people’s minds to make them think they’re seeing someone who closely resembles someone they know. He has amassed a fortune over the centuries, using much of the money to construct four Historic Cities, exact replicas of entire cities representing how they appeared at different eras. There’s nineteenth-century London, where Jack the Ripper went on a murderous rampage of prostitutes; seventeenth-century Paris, when the poisoner and black magic-practicing sorceress La Voisin lived; the Venice of an indeterminate, varying chronological time when Antonio Palladio became a spy and murderer in the White Hand network of spies; and Tenochtitlan (Mexico City), during the era when Montezuma reigned supreme and was responsible for the bloody sacrifices of countless victims.

Roberta Morgenstern is a very memorable literary creation. She’s a woman who has it all: a career as a CID investigator, a love of the music of Percy Faith and His Orchestra, and a remarkable level of comfort with her own self: “She was somewhere between forty-five and fifty-five, with a good life behind her, a life full of excellent meals, delicious liqueurs, and marshmallows. Not enough exercise. Well, none at all, to be honest, except what came naturally.” She is, to say the least, a bit leery about teaming up with the relatively raw investigator Clement Martineau to catch a copy-cat Ripper killer in the Historic City of London, but the two seemingly contrasting personalities work very well together.

Dance of the Assassins is packed with action, adventure, murder, and mayhem. I would give it five stars if it weren’t for the fact that its subject matter, while highly interesting and while it makes for a ripping good yarn, may not be found suitable by many of the parents of teens. Witchcraft on its own was enough to have the Harry Potter books banned by many libraries, despite their intrinsic literary worth and that they got many children to read for a change instead of passively watching the boob tube. Herve Jubert’s very well-written and well-researched book goes even further in that vein. While main characters Roberta and Martineau are basically “good guys,” the murderers are definitely not and will stop at nothing, including Satanism and the sacrifice of babies, in the case of La Voisin, during Black Masses, to further their goals of getting Satan to admit he broke their contracts and forcing him to make them even more powerful as a sort of just compensation.

As long as the readers of Dance of the Assassins are not overly impressionable and are mature enough not to be influenced negatively by the subject matter of this novel, there is no other reason I wouldn’t recommend this book. With dragons, telepathic hedgehogs, people who can transform into jaguars, it depicts a world where one can, if in the proper frame of mind, jump into the worlds of famous artists’ paintings, such as Carpaccio’s Saint George and the Dragon or The Wedding.

Despite its dark subject matter, touches of humor lighten the mood and give more humanity to the characters. If you’re looking for an extremely well-written book and don’t mind, or go out of your way to find, novels that at times deal with themes about the darker side of our natures, then you will find Dance of the Assassins by Herve Jubert to be a fascinating page-turner of a read.

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  Douglas R. Cobb/2006 for curled up with a good kid's book  

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