When C. S. Friedman's invited me to get an early read of the forthcoming Dreamwalker last summer, I was happy to oblige! All that the author and her editor asked for was for me to refrain from revealing anything about it and to wait till around the book's pub date before posting a review. It was a small price to pay to be one of the few people who'd read this novel before everyone else!
Dreamwalker is the first volume in a brand new series, and in style and tone it is a world away from the dark science fiction and fantasy series/novels Friedman has become renowned for. Writing the Magister trilogy took a lot out of the author and she needed a break from that sort of tale. That series was by far her most densely written, aggressively dark, and adult-themed work, and it took six years of her life to write. As a result, Friedman wanted to write something shorter, something more linear, with a plot that wasn't as convoluted, with a much faster pace. Something that her younger fans could relate to a bit more. And yet, she also wanted to write something her adult fans would enjoy as well.
When asked to describe Dreamwalker, Friedman explained that it's a crossover novel. It includes elements targetted to a teen audience, but also hopefully enough content and complexity to please an adult audience. Thus far the critical response has been very good, and has confirmed that she apparently succeeded in her goal, that of writing something that both adults and teens would enjoy. She explained that Dreamwalker is shorter than her previous works. This reflects the author's attempt to publish books more often than she's been doing in the past, with hopefully a new installment out every year or so. Friedman is convinced that overall the series will have the same level of complexity and darkness of worldbuilding that fans have become accustomed to, but it will gradually build over the course of the entire series.
So did C. S. Friedman truly succeed in her endeavor to write something that would satisfy both her teen and adult audiences? I guess she did. As I told the author once I was done reading Dreamwalker, though I enjoyed the book, I did miss the darkness and the more complex plotlines of her past works. I did miss the dark and more edgy characters we have come to both love and hate over the years. Having said that, once I sat down and started to read it, I went through Dreamwalker in no time. The plot may be more linear and the novel shorter, yet the pace of the book and the quality of the narrative nevertheless sucked me into this tale and I went through the manuscript in just a few sittings. So I guess it's mission accomplished for Friedman!
Here's the blurb:
All her life Jessica Drake has dreamed of other worlds, some of them similar to her own, others disturbingly alien. She never shares the details with anyone, save her younger brother Tommy, a compulsive gamer who incorporates some aspects of Jessica’s dreams into his games. But now someone is asking about those dreams...and about her. A strange woman has been watching her house. A visitor to her school attempts to take possession of her dream-inspired artwork. Why? As she begins to search for answers it becomes clear that whoever is watching her does not want her to learn the truth. One night her house catches on fire, and when the smoke clears she discovers that her brother has been kidnapped. She must figure out what is going on, and quickly, if she and her family are to be safe. Following clues left behind on Tommy's computer, determined to find her brother and bring him home safely, Jessica and two of her friends are about to embark on a journey that will test their spirits and their courage to the breaking point, as they must leave their own world behind and confront the source of Earth's darkest legends – as well as the terrifying truth of their own secret heritage.
The worldbuilding has always been an aspect in which Friedman usually shines. By specifically trying to write something less dark and complex, I felt that in this facet of her writing there is something missing. That lack might be made up by other aspects of this novel, but I figure that it's in this area that Dreamwalker truly differs from the author's other works. The alternate realities/parralel universes are a classic speculative fiction trope that many, including myself, feel has been overused over the years. No stranger to both the science fiction and the fantasy genres, I was pleased to discover that Friedman approached this cliché from a different and more original angle. One that will, I believe, be one of the underlying themes in the rest of this series. One must not forget that Dreamwalker is sort of a brief introduction to what will be a vaster, more intricate tale. Hence, the potential is there for more complexity, more darkness. The child exploitation theme certainly leaves the door open for much of that. Only time will tell if, as it is the author's objective, said complexity and darkness will build over the course of the series. Several concepts and ideas are introduced, but there is little or no elaboration on most of them. I for one would have loved to discover more about magic, the guilds, the seers, the other realities, etc. . .
Although there are a number of POV characters, the bulk of Dreamwalker is made up of Jessica Drake's point of view. She's sixteen years of age, with the teenage angst and emotions that come with adolescence. Jessica is an endearing character, one you can't help but root for. But I have a feeling that she is a bit too mature for her age, even if her backstory explains why she's more than your typical teenage girl. I enjoyed the occasional Tommy POVs, for they offer another perspective and create a different atmosphere. Devon and Rita formed a nice trio with Jessica and it will be interesting to see how their relationships will evolve in future sequels. Though a bit predictable, Isaac was a character that brought a lot to the tale. The Green Man offered some fascinating insight into the alternate realities, which bodes well for things to come.
By crafting a less convoluted plot, Friedman was able to write a fast-paced narrative which really takes you on a wild ride. While it's true that the story can be a bit predictable at times, the rhythm of the prose and Jessica's plight quickly take over and suck you into Dreamwalker. Relatively short chapters, engaging protagonists, and surprising revelations keep you turning those pages. Dreamwalker may lack the darkness and complexity found in the Coldfire trilogy or the Magister trilogy, yet the storylines are nonetheless intriguing. You get the feeling that this first volume is a set-up book. C. S. Friedman, though perhaps she doesn't unveil as much information as she wanted, is undoubtedly paving the way for a lot of things to come in future installments. One thing's for sure, though. Based on Dreamwalker, it is evident that this is a series brimming with potential and I'm looking forward to finding out what Friedman has in store for those characters!