Dance is a thoroughly enjoyable steampunk western by David Lee Summers.

The heroes, Ramon Morales and Fatimah Kamiri, are no simple tropes. Morales is a short, bespectacled Mexican sherrif, while Fatimah is a Persian healer who has fled persecution in her homeland. It is wonderful to have characters removed from the usual chiseled lawman or drunken sawbones. Throughout the book, Summers introduces a wide and varied cast of characters.

I have to say that this wide-spread cast made the first few chapters felt a bit disjointed – less like a novel than a series of short stories which feature the same two protagonists  – but as the book progresses, you can see the threads of the skein coming together in a very rewarding manner. By the end of the book, we’ve seen almost every character return to some level of prominence in a climactic battle for the Denver Mint involving pirates, Russians, ornithopters, bounty hunters, engineers, the US Army and Billy the Kid.

The central theme is one of patience and understanding – again, an unusual choice for a western, but one which gives the book real heart. None of the central characters are beyond redemption, instead looking to one another for a way to make a better life or, indeed, a better world. It was this heart that kept me reading, more than any other facet of the book. It may come across to cynics or self-proclaimed realists as less believable, but I felt its good-natured hope set it apart in an era where so many authors seem to exalt blood, savagery and darkness in their works.

The writing is occassionally a bit staccatto for my tastes. The sentences tend to be brief, pointing out individual facts, then moving to another, then another. I noticed this more near the end of the novel than the beginning, and at some points it did jar me out of the fantastic world. However, it’s a small quibble with an otherwise fine piece of work.

In short, Owl Dance is a truly fun read for any optimistic hearts who enjoy alternate histories. I recommend it!