This is the first book of The Orokon pentalogy (before The King and Queen of Swords, Sultan of the Moon and Stars, Sisterhood of the Blue Storm, and Empress of the Endless Sun).
The events of this book take place in an 18th-Century setting, in the isolated village of Irion, a remote place still mostly unconcerned by the civil war of Ejland: the usurper Ejard Blue has overthrown his brother Ejard Red's government, the rightful heir.
Catayane is a young Vaga girl who lives in the Wildwood with her blind father Silas, the village's former Lector, now an apostate. She can understand Nature and communicate with animals.
Jemany is a cripple, a bastard son of the Archduke of Ixiter's family. He is confined in the decrepit castle of Irion with his pharisaic great-aunt Umbecca who, with the help of apothecary Waxwell, likes to keep his addict mother Ela in a drugged stupor, until his new companion, the mysterious dwarf Barnabas, teaches him to walk with crutches. This, of course, is not to Waxwell's taste: he will try and exorcise Jem by amputating his ill-shapen legs!
I found this first volume a little slow to start. It takes about half the book for Jem to meet Cata, and the other half for him to learn about his destiny. And even though the book is divided in numerous chapters and subchapters, Arden's tendency to switch POV between paragraphs is sometimes distracting.
However, I fairly enjoyed The Harlequin's Dance. Its setting reminded me much of Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast, with Aunt Becca's bigotry and Waxwell's creepy methods. I also found the fat redheaded bully Poltiss, Waxwell's cruel adoptive son, particularly despicable. And of course, the Ejlanders' persecution of the Vagas echoes today's xenophobia against the Romani.