What happens when you dream?
This question has made men wonder for millenia. Leave it to a woman to answer it for us all.
Author K.M. Weiland of the popular Wordplay blog for writers has taken this idea and weaved it into her latest fantasy book Dreamlander.
Chris Redston is a down on his luck writer who has always dreamt of far away lands and amazing battles. Lately he's having a dream that scares him: a beautiful woman rides up to him on a horse, pulls out a firearm, and warns him not to come - right before shooting him between the eyes.
If that didn't make him paranoid, he's being called by a strange man who knows Chris is having weird dreams. When Chris is finally able to confront his stalker, the man is shot. Chris is knocked out and awakens to meet a psychologist who promises to help Chris get rid of the dreams. All he needs to do is sleep, do what he's told in the dream, and it will break the cycle.
Allara is a princess of Lael and is also the Searcher - the one person tasked with finding the Gifted and guiding them through their world. The Gifted is the one person who can remember both lives on Earth and Lael. Everyone else thinks they are dreaming. Allara was a young girl when a Gifted came to Lael and betrayed everyone for the treacherous Mactalde. Even though that Gifted and Mactalde were killed, the prophecy that Mactalde would return has her on edge. Especially now that a new Gifted is about to cross over, which shouldn't happen again in her lifetime as most Searchers only ever have one Gifted a generation. She tries to warn him away, but he keeps appearing closer and closer to fulling coming over.
Chris didn't realize that the psychologist was Mactalde still living on Earth. Chris unwittingly brings Mactalde back over, sparking a war between Lael and Mactalde's army. Even worse, by bringing someone across the boundary, both worlds are stretched to the breaking point by unusual storms wreaking havoc on both sides.
As Chris and Allara are thrown together, they must overcome her mistrust and his cluelessness about their world to find Mactalde and end the chaos before two worlds crash down. But the shifting alliances and strange ways of Lael may prove too much for even the Gifted to handle.
An epic fantasy needs a strong plot, a deep world, and compelling characters. Dreamlander has all three aspects in full force here. The fish-out-of-water part of the story with Chris trying to survive and deal with a fantasy realm is not new, but it is handled deftly in the author's hands. The tension builds steadily on both sides of the dream as Chris tries to avoid death on Earth and trains in Lael. There is no dull moment as every part of the steps taken pull the reader deeper into a grand conflict.
Chris and Allara are appealing characters that battle internal demons along with the dangers that Mactalde's invasion brings. They both grow and develop throughout the story and anchor the story well. The secondary characters are also well done. Instead of being cardboard place holders, they are all 3-D figures that occupy their own space in the story and add to the mix.
The fantasy world of Lael is an intriguing one, as it isn't all swords and horses. Those elements are there of course, but this world has some mechanical, almost steampunk type elements. There are tram cars enabling quick travel across lands and fantastical firearms that operate with a special energy. These are cool factors that make Dreamlander stand apart from a typical fantasy.
I've enjoyed following K.M. Weiland's blog posts for writerly advice and videos. Now reading Dreamlander I know she has the skill and talent to back up her training. She doesn't just teach - she can ply the craft as well. I really enjoyed Dreamlander as one of the best fantasy books I've read in a while, and I can highly recommend it for a great Christmas gift for a loved one - or even a treat for yourself.
Full disclosure - I did receive an advance review copy in exchange for an honest review - and I wouldn't be writing this if I didn't really like it.