Characters You Will Fight For
Chris Redston grabs you from the very beginning. Ever since a fatal car crash in his immediate family left him virtually on his own, he’s done his best to move on and get over it. And as much as he regrets the way his deadbeat father buried his own pain in a bottle, he hasn’t completely written him off, repeatedly going downtown to bail his father out of jail for this or that minor thing.
Chris has another problem, though. His dreams, which have always bothered him, are becoming more vivid and terrifying. He has a recurring dream of a warrior princess, pleading with him to stay away from her and her people…then firing at his head with her rifle. He wakes every time, bathed in sweat, and wondering how a dream could seem so very real. (As someone who suffers sub-clinical insomnia, the horror of sleep that doesn’t rest or satisfy you, even when it comes, is very relatable.)
Just when Chris thought his life couldn’t get weirder, he starts being stalked by a creepy old man who tells him his dreams are actually a whole other world – and that he’s going to be one of the few chosen ones to see it for real.
As Chris scrambles to understand what’s happening to him, and try to convince himself he’s not crazy, he finds himself embroiled in an elaborate plot the significance of which he can hardly understand, much less believe.
This leads to my point of disgruntlement. From the beginning of his journey, Chris is surrounded by strange, sinister figures who might be lying, might be misrepresenting, and might just be telling him truths he’s not ready to accept. He’s led into a set-up where he makes a mistake – a mistake of colossal ramifications, yet a mistake I feel any man in his position would be “justified” in making. (Given the choice, any of us might choose to believe the psychologist telling me I’m just as crazy as I thought, rather than the lady in my dream who has repeatedly tried to kill me.)
When Chris begins to discover exactly how big a mistake it is, he and the other characters gave him a serious chewing-out that I found frustrating and unjustified. That might tell you more about me than about the book, though. Chris’s actions on his first day in “dream land” are serious, but the full magnitude of them must develop over the course of the book, their full importance not being completely clear until the very end.
The story does move on, though. The aforementioned warrior princess – Allara, Chris’s predestined “guide” and trainer in this strange second-world – does have other facets to her personality. Chris, with the same goodwill he showed his father, patiently accepts all guilt for the accusations leveled against him and resolves to set things right, no matter what or how (and melt the ice princess along the way).
He starts learning about Lael, one of the kingdoms in the dreamworld, where steampunk firearms mix with strange demi-humanoids, explosives with swords, cable-cars with wyverns (okay, one wyvern). As his relationships with the people and the place develop, so does his desire to save this world – not only for its own sake, but for himself.
There are plenty of sword-fights, both practice and real. There are battles, and racing around in cars and on horses. There are gunfights – back in the “real world”, Chris is forced to deal with the other side of his enemies in Lael, with roommates who wonder if he should be in a psych ward, and with unusually large hail in the middle of August.
There is also kissing. The naturally developed romance makes you think there must be a happy ending to this – even if war is a bad time to fall in love. For that matter, is there ever a good time to fall in love?
I’m not sure what I was expecting from Dreamlander, but this wasn’t it – in the good way. Non-classic fantasy creatures; religion, economics, and politics; broken people trying to fix themselves and their world. The environment is refreshingly different, and the characters will capture you and make you root for them (against the other characters, and even against the author. Go figure).
Go ahead: take the plunge. Sink a few afternoons into Dreamlander, and find out what really happens when you dream. (If you only ever dream of one strange place, start worrying.)