(2015) Robert L. Anderson, Hodder & Stoughton, £12.99, hrdbk, 330pp, ISBN 978-1-473-62100-8
Young Dea is a teenage dream-walker, living with her neurotic Mum who has similar powers for being able to step into other sleeping peopleís dreams and feed from them like a non-malevolent psychic vampire. Both Dea and her mum feel ill if they go too long without feeding off dreams.
Dea is not told how they got such powers for much of the book, no matter how much she asks, but she is given certain rules to follow; donít look in mirrors, never go to the same dreamerís head twice, and avoid water. Surely giving her a better understanding of her nature, her gifts and curses and why certain rules apply would have been wiser. She is only left in the dark in order for the author to keep the readers guessing.
Anyone who saw Gremlins knows that any rules spelt out so stringently will soon be broken with dire consequences and that is pretty much how the first half of the book plays out. Dea falls in love with Connor, the dishy new kid in school who might or might not be a serial killer. Deaís fascination for him leads her to enter his head more than once, but his real secrets conveniently stay out of her reach until much later in the story. His realization that she has trampled through his mind doesnít create nearly enough friction between them and he is rather too accepting of her even having the power to even do such a thing. His assistance in her escape from a psychiatric hospital when they have barely met seriously stretches credibility.
Dea is also reluctant to leave town when her Mum finds it is time to get away because too many people are asking questions, especially the cops. Dea suddenly has friends in middle-America and she doesnít want a nomadic existence any more. Worse, she sees a photograph in a magazine and realizes that it is a photo of her missing father Ė her mum has lied to her by cutting a random photo of an obscure celebrity out, to claim it is Deaís dad. The search for the real father will become central to the second half of the novel.
This second half of the book shifts gear and traps Dea in a fairy dreamscape with her God-like father who gives her a choice of being with him forever or banished to mortal existence, possibly with Conner. Given how insane her father is and how dysfunctional & incommunicative her Mother is, Deaís choice strikes me as relatively easy to make, but with no guarantees that her freedom will be respected. She must decide between an ever changing unstable dreamscape existence or the short but stable world we call reality. Answers on a postcard please.
The story tries to both original and a standard Buffy The Vampire Slayer style tale of a girl with powers that threaten her life and to alienate her from her friends. The sudden switch to a reworking of the legend of Hades & Persephone as a father & daughter scenario feels like an independent story superimposed on the main mystery.
Dream demons spilling into the real world seems right out of Nightmare on Elm Street, while the dreamland desert is very Clive Barker. I found it increasingly hard to root for Dea or her estranged parents. Her mumís secrecy about Deaís nature and identity seems pointless and ultimately causes all the problems to follow.
Then there are the other characters, such as Connorís step-father who is the chief cop pursuing Dea and her Mum. His corruption is hardly a surprise. Gollum, a girl so ugly and nerdy that even her friends call her that to the point of forgetting her real name is likable but over clingy. She is simply used in the end as a go-between messenger for Connor & Dea. So much more could have come of this character.
Then there is the diligent stalking reporter, a woman trying to solve the mystery surrounding Connor, a hack-journalist who seems to trace the young friends wherever they hide even when they leave no clues or even know where they are going themselves. Everyone turns up here with impeccable timing, almost like actors in a fast moving farce with contrived fixed entrance and exit points.
There is much to commend too, such as the rain-water dream-monsters and the origami paper birds that lead Dea out of the subconscious minds she wanders around in voyeuristically, while failing to really learn anything. Overall, a work that feels like many other works that have undoubtedly inspired it, trying desperately to be more original. The resolutions are rather pedestrian with the tensions of the story peaking in the middle chapters. Connor seems like a young variation of James Stewartís character in Vertigo with secrets locked in his traumatized mind which Dea serves as a convenient key to (his mind is full of locked and unlocked doors). It all feels very by the numbers.
See also Ian's take on Dreamland.
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