The January Dancer impressed me on many levels. Its milieu has a vividness that reminded me of Simmons’ Hyperion, Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun and Banks’ Culture novels, and, as those works do, Flynn’s tackles some familiar sci-fi concepts with literary ambition substantially beyond escapism. Flynn’s world-building is especially impressive — he takes a tried-and-true sci-fi meme for faster-than-light interstellar travel, and applies uncommon rigor to extrapolating the social and political consequences, which provides some of the emotional depth.
The January Dancer is fundamentally a space opera, with nods to sources as wide-ranging as Smith’s Lensmen (for sure) and Whedon’s Firefly (I suspect). The plot unfolds in a formal structure patterned after Celtic music forms (which I found off-putting at first, but only at first). The story incorporates a number of revelations, some of which have more payoff for the reader than others (when has a mysterious alien artifact ever not had unexpected significance or qualities), but some of which Flynn clearly expects the reader to work out at about the same time the characters do.
Two side notes: if you are considering reading this novel and daunted by the star map, list of characters, and/or the time-measurement conversion chart at the front of the book , don’t let them dissuade you. None are necessary (although the map is helpful) and the time chart can safely be ignored.
Also I was surprised that The January Dancer was not shorlisted for the Hugo and/or Nebula awards. The word “jilted” comes to mind.
needs more demons? Nope.