I got 67 pages (eight chapters) into Tom Arden‘s The Harlequin’s Dance, and even those 67 pages were a struggle. In fact, I started and stopped the book a few times before finally giving up. I’m a little disappointed, because it seems like there’s potential here. Characterization is thorough, there are some promising villains, and some subtle humor — all things that I appreciate.
And Arden is a fine enough writer, though a bit choppy in parts:
Cata wiped her nose on her wrist. A grey squirrel was looking at her quizzically. She closed her eyes. For a moment she saw herself as the squirrel saw her: a little girl hunched on her mother’s grave, forlornly tormenting a lifeless doll.
She sprang up.
It was a word the village-brats would say; they thought it was a bad word.
She said it again.
How she hated the carrot-haired boy! Again she saw him turning back to face her, his thick lip curling. The other children had turned, too. Two skinny boys and two girls, one small and one tall, they followed the carrot-haired boy in all he did. They sneered when he sneered. The laughed when he laughed…
Annoyingly, there were times when I had to re-read parts because I wasn’t sure what was going on — was this event happening in the present, or was it a flashback?
But, my main problem was that, for all 67 pages of The Harlequin’s Dance, I never felt anything. (Except once I was hungry, a few times I was sleepy, and the ant bite on the middle toe of my left foot was itching like crazy.) I didn’t like any of the characters; in fact, I disliked most of them. Perhaps, given some more time, I might have come to care whether or not their world sank into the abyss but, at some point, you gotta cut your losses and move on.