Dan Frey's The Future Is Yours turned out to be one of my favorite reads of 2021. So when the folks at Del Rey got in touch with me to inquire about whether or not I wanted to get an early read of his forthcoming Dreambound, I immediately said yes.

Unfortunately, Frey's latest is nothing compared to its predecessor. If anything, it reads like something akin to a second draft, lacking polish and with lots of half-assed plot details. Given how much I enjoyed The Future Is Yours, this was a major disappointment for me.

Here's the blurb:

When Byron Kidd’s twelve-year-old daughter vanishes, the only clue is a note claiming that she’s taken off to explore the Hidden World, a magical land from a series of popular novels. She is not the only child to seek out this imaginary realm in recent years, and Byron—a cynical and hard-nosed reporter—is determined to discover the whereabouts of dozens of missing kids.

Byron secures a high-profile interview with Annabelle Tobin, the eccentric author of the books, and heads off to her palatial home in the Hollywood Hills. But the truth Byron discovers is more fantastic than he ever could have dreamed.

As he unearths locations from the books that seem to be bleeding into the real world, he must shed his doubts and dive headfirst into the mystical secrets of Los Angeles if he hopes to reunite with his child. Soon Byron finds himself on his own epic journey—but if he’s not careful, he could be the next one to disappear.

Told through journal entries, transcripts, emails, and excerpts from Tobin’s novels, Dreambound is a spellbinding homage to Los Angeles and an immersive and fast-paced story of how far a father will go—even delving into impossible worlds—to save his daughter.

As was the case with The Future Is Yours, Frey's new work is another epistolary novel. Which means that it is written as a series of documents such as emails, text messages, various transcripts, newspaper articles, journal entries, etc. Once more, I was a bit worried about such an unusual structure. But in the end, at least for The Future Is Yours, it worked superbly and made for quick and compulsive reading. Frey's modern take on the epistolary novel showed that you can write thought-provoking science fiction that's big on concepts and ideas with this sort of unorthodox narrative structure. In many ways, it was this particular framework that made the book such a page-turning experience. Alas, this same format made Dreambound a failure to launch. Though it does work rather well early on, it soon becomes evident that an epistolary novel didn't work to recount this story. Or more exactly, it didn't work for me. I found it hard for the tale to gather an sort of traction or momentum, and I found myself quickly losing interest the more I read. The more esoteric the story became, the less engaged I was with the plot. In my humble opinion, this format prevented the author from conveying the tale the way it was meant to be told.

The worldbuilding is probably the most half-assed aspect of this novel. I found it original how the Hidden World mirrors certain Los Angeles landmarks. Beyond that, however, everything that has to do with the Green Man and his world was bland and uninspired. It looks as though very little effort went into its creation and the execution of every scene taking place over there is decidedly subpar. Hard to believe that Rowling-esque Annabelle Tobin could have sold millions of books with such a lackluster universe. I felt that too little time was spent fleshing out Ciara's adventures in the Fairy Tale series, which probably explains why the Hidden World sequences felt so stale and derivative.

I know that epistolary novels appear to be Dan Frey's thing. Relying on brief extracts from various documents makes it easy to hide the fact that he is a screenwriter and not a novelist. Longer excerpts from fictional books show that his prose isn't always up to par and could use some work. This is particularly obvious in the Fairy Tale installments' extracts, which often read a bit like fanfic. Another problem was the collection of folk tales published in 1899, yet reads like something compiled and written last year by a young college student. These are the reasons why it feels as though this is just a draft and not the final copy edit of a book.

Characterization is also an issue. It's impossible not to root for poor Byron Kidd at the beginning. You can't help but feel for the grieving father hell-bent on finding his daughter and bringing her back home. Trouble is, the more mystical and mysterious his investigation becomes, too often the main character becomes dense on purpose to draw everything out and keep the plot from moving forward too rapidly. Other than colorful Misha, whom was almost made a caricature featuring every single SJW facet one could cram into somebody, the rest of the supporting cast are made up of people that left me completely indifferent.

Still, regardless of the clumsy execution, I believed that the endgame and the ending could still save the novel. Sadly, the last third of Dreambound goes down the crapper in spectacular fashion, delivering a piss-poor ending that was so nonsensical I wanted to throw the book as far as I could. It's too bad, because the premise truly had potential and the blurb had my curiosity piqued in earnest.

Disappointing. . .

The final verdict: 5/10

For more info about this title, follow this Amazon Associate link.

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