Tansy Rayner Roberts

Bantam (1998)

ISBN: 0-733801-84-6 

Reviewed by Lorraine Cormack (this review was first published in January 2006)

Splashdance Silver is a pleasantly amusing read with a consistent dash of humor throughout the novel.

It tells the story of Kassa Daggarsharp, and her oddly assorted crew – or perhaps that should be hangers-on. When the story opens, Kassa is enjoying herself, making a living dancing in taverns. But within pages, she has received tidings from her father, the pirate Vicious Bigbeard Daggarsharp. It’s a pretty traditional letter – if you’re reading this, then I’m dead… Bigbeard has willed Kassa his trove of pirate silver. Inconveniently, he’s failed to mention exactly where it is.

Of course, with a trove of pirate treasure at stake, Kassa cannot simply puzzle out where it is and then go collect it. She must contend with other potential claimants – a profit scoundrel who needs a score to save his life; an usurper Emperor; a faithless royal champion; the Hidden Army; and assorted other troublemakers that pop up in the course of her quest. And of course Kassa has history with most of these people, history that is only gradually revealed through the novel. And Kassa herself is torn; does she want to be a Pirate of Note like her father, or a Qualified Witch like her mother? Or just a singer and dancer?

A humorous novel is always a risky thing to attempt, as humor can be so much a matter of personal taste. There were a few times in the early pages of the novel when I felt Roberts was trying just a little too hard; but the novel quickly found its own pace and voice. It was consistently amusing without looking as though it was pushing for the laughs, and the humorous tone didn’t grate. I didn’t find it laugh-out-loud funny, though others might have. I found many of the asides more amusing than the larger, deliberately humorous, scenes.

There was a significant weakness for me in this novel – the lack of depth to the characters. None of them were cliches or stereotypes, and yet at the end of the novel I found it hard to remember any except Kassa by name. I kept thinking of them as “the swordsman” or some other generic description. More importantly, because they lacked depth there often seemed to be no real reason for their actions. Although Kassa was pushed into the search for the silver, I felt no real impetus behind this. When Aragon (“the swordsman”) agonised over choices, I just wondered what he was wittering about – it didn’t feel as though he was really torn, or even particularly interested in his choices. To a large extent, it felt as though characters made choices and took action simply to move them from one scene to another. At the end of the novel, one character wonders how Kassa inspires people to follow her. I wondered too.

This lack of depth meant I felt no real connection to the novel, and that it isn’t likely to stay in my memory for very long. But on the other hand, it didn’t interfere with enjoying the novel as a light, amusing read. And although Roberts has used some familiar characters as templates, so to speak, her characters aren’t cliches. Largely, that comes from some well judged humor that mocks some of the conventions and cliches of fantasy novels. The characters may lack depth, but they are original.

The plotting was coherent, and although it didn’t exactly have to make sense in this madcap world, it did all hang together. Although magic is used to solve some of the problems in the novel, it isn’t a cheat – not a case of waving a magic wand and everything immediately comes out right. It’s harder and more complicated than that.

There is a tinge of familiarity about some of the situations Kassa and her accomplices encounter – crossing and double-crossing, conflicting loyalties, interference from others who are intent on goals that have nothing to do with what Kassa is interested in. Like the characters, though, these familiar themes are played out with a good deal of originality in the actual situations and the resolution to them.

Athough the novel leaves open the possibility of a sequel or sequels (Liquid Gold), it is complete and enjoyable in itself.

Overall, I enjoyed this novel, and I think it would please quite a wide audience. But pick it up when you’re looking for some light entertainment and you’ll enjoy it much more than if you were looking for something to make you think.