(2015) Robert L. Anderson, Hodder & Stoughton, £16.99, hrdbk, 332pp, ISBN 978-1-473-62100-8
When I read Dreamland I could not help but be reminded of Dreamside the first novel by the late, great Graham Joyce. Joyce’s novel tells the story of four students who are able to go Dreamside, and manipulate what they find there, but like that classic scene in American Werewolf in London, what is a dream and what is reality? And what you think might be reality is actually a dream within a dream.
Dea Donahue, the protagonist of Anderson’s novel Dreamland has a similar problem. She is a Dream Walker, having the ability since being a little girl – not that she is that old now – of being able to enter people’s dreams, but, like all the best fairy tales, there are rules to follow, imposed by Dea’s mother – never walk the same person’s dreams more than once, never interfere and never be seen, because dreams can also be nightmares and the monsters within them will get you if you are not careful, basically don’t stray from the path when you are inside someone else’s head. But rules are there to be broken, aren’t they, even for well-intended reasons, but always at a price. Harking back to another great Graham Joyce young adult novel Do the Creepy Things which involved sneaking into people’s houses and standing beside their beds while they were asleep, Dea doesn’t have to do anything as extreme as that, she just has to hold something belonging to the person to be able to enter their dreams.
Getting older, Dea is fed up with this gift and her mother who is rather unpredictable, with a major things about clocks and mirrors, forcing them to move town again and again which means that she has no friends, no roots and never fits in at school, until she meets the mysterious Connor, another new kid in town and they become friends, and possibly more, but is he good or bad, and what are his real motives for getting close to Dea? Well, there is only one way to find out for sure, and that’s by walking in his dreams, but remember that one time only rule...oh, Dea!
What Dreamland delivers is a murder mystery wrapped up in a fantasy story. What it almost delivers is nearly your typical young adult book, with: family secrets, being an outsider, parental conflict, uncertain love interest, etc., etc., but with the added fantasy element of being a Dream Walker, which makes a change from Dea being some sort of supernatural creature or trapped in some sort of dystopian scenario from which she has to fight her way out.
This is Anderson’s first novel and it is a bit clunky in places with regard to the pacing of the plot. Fast then slow and even slower in places. There are also a couple of reveals set up that are not really much of a surprise when they do occur. The story does come alive when Dea uses her abilities and the dreamside sequences are the narrative highlights of the book – more dreamside adventures next time, Mr. Anderson, I say (almost sounding like a line Agent Smith might deliver in The Matrix). Dreamland's ending is set up in typical cliff-hanger fashion to make sure a sequel is on the cards. To be fair, I am clearly not the target market for this book, though I expect those that it is aimed at will merely shrug and say that “it’s okay”.
See also Arthur's take on Dreamland.
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