Book Review: The Knife Dance by Michael Cisco

While unfamiliar readers may find the story complex and rather frustrating, fans of Cisco’s work will welcome this novella with open arms.

The Knife Dance by Michael CiscoCharging on the scene in 1999 with his novel The Divinity Student, Michael Cisco has made quite a name for himself with the readers of weird and dark fiction. Describing his own work as ‘de-genred’—featuring elements of genre without the structure—it’s extremely difficult to put Cisco in any category other than his own. What he writes is not exactly horror or science-fiction, or even fantasy, but yet it encompasses all three genres, and more. Considering that most would agree that horror, science-fiction and fantasy all come from under the Weird Fiction heading, it’s easy to say that Cisco has all of it covered in spades.

Long thought lost, The Knife Dance returns us to the setting of Cisco’s most famous works. The story is part of the ‘San Veneficio Cycle’, which includes The Divinity Student and The Golem. San Veneficio is a strange hybrid of a locale, blending ancient culture with modern tech, bringing to mind the strange worlds in the fiction of China Miéville, except Cisco did it first. Here we find the different factions of Christianity duking it out in gangland war zone fashion; Gunplay, explosions, sneaky spies sulking around every corner. As these factions continuously argue whose version of Jesus is the right version, a group hunts for the Knife Dance. Once used centuries before to defeat the Satan, the ritual is all but lost to modern man. They have their ideas as who may know the steps to the dance, and seek this person out.

The novella is written in a loose third person perspective, but for the most part, Struve is our focal player. He seems to hang right at the edge of the action, witnessing the gunfights in the streets, often narrowly escaping death by mere seconds, while contrasted with the explosive action are scenes depicting the amazing San Veneficio area. By all means, the setting here is the main star of the story, and this is where Cisco’s writing excels. He has a created a living, breathing world run by the current of ideas and messages, existing in its own blended time zone. Atmosphere is the name of the game when it comes to Cisco, and with the San Veneficio stories, the tone is thick and lush, a world many could visit and stay for a long time, perhaps never to leave.

As much as there is to love about The Knife Dance for fans of Cisco’s work, the novella is far from any type of gateway story into the fiction of Michael Cisco. Without ever having read The Divinity Student or The Golem, readers new to his work might shy away from the heavy prose and even heavier subject matter. And while there are some seriously weird scenes in the story, it’s not horror in the general sense. Of course, it’s Michael Cisco, so there is no general sense to any of his fiction, and perhaps that’s the point. While unfamiliar readers may find the story complex and rather frustrating, fans of Cisco’s work will welcome this novella with open arms. The story does beg for a second, maybe even a third reading, but that’s indicative of most of Cisco’s work. He’s definitely not going to make it easy, or that accessible, and that’s what makes his work so rewarding. You may not understand everything that’s going on, but if you hang in there, he will blow your mind in ways you’ll never see coming.

Curated by Joseph S. Pulver, Sr., The Knife Dance is published by Dim Shores in both limited edition hardback and trade paperback. Definitely a book for the Michael Cisco completist, The Knife Dance also features amazing cover art by Harry O. Morris and an introduction by Paul Tremblay, and is available now from the publisher.



Publisher: Dim Shores
Trade Paperback (124pp)
Release Date: 11 April 2016

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