I received a review copy of this book from the author. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Series: Dreamwalker #1
Published by DAW in 2014-02-04
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Source: the author
Reading Challenges: The 2014 Science Fiction Experience
Buy the Book • Goodreads
I was so blown away by C.S. Friedman’s Magister Trilogy that when I heard she was trying her hand at a young adult series, I couldn’t help but get excited. I love her writing so much, and I like the way that she considers the realistic consequences of her characters’ actions.
Dreamwalker is the story of Jessica, a teenage girl dealing with some difficult issues in her personal life. Her father walked out on the family when she was little, and he claimed that she wasn’t really his child and that Jessica’s mom was having an affair. Even though her mother reassures her this isn’t true, she can’t help but wonder. When the paternity test finally comes back, it shatters Jessica’s world forever. Not only does her DNA not match her father, but it doesn’t match her mother either. Her genetics seem to indicate that she is a freak of nature.
Jessica’s brother Tommy is a gamer and spends most of his time playing World of Warcraft. I empathize with him quite a bit, as I went through my own WoW phase for several years until Blizzard decided to ruin my epic fantasy with pandas (/endrant), and he’s easily my favorite character in the story. Jessica really doesn’t understand Tommy, but she makes the effort to be a part of his life, and he uses stories from her dreams as inspiration in some of his online games. One night, Tommy is kidnapped by strange creatures from a parallel world. It is up to Jessica to rescue him, and in the process, find out what she really is.
One of the strengths of young adult writing is its ability to address the issues that teenagers are dealing with in their own lives. Friedman does a fantastic job of portraying a messed up family that still has an anchor of love and support, even though Jessica’s father’s actions have left lasting emotional scars on everyone in the family. Her family isn’t perfect, but they’re trying, and Jessica will stop at nothing to save Tommy’s life.
I enjoyed the fact that Friedman decided to use a diverse cast of characters. Jessica is accompanied on her rescue mission by two friends that she met online, both of whom have similar DNA anomalies. Devon is black, and Rita grew up on the streets. Their differing racial and socioeconomic backgrounds play important roles in the story, and each character has to rely on their own unique life experiences to survive in another world.
Oh, and then there’s the romance! Friedman does a perfect job here. Jessica is too busy rescuing her brother to have long romantic entanglements, and there’s no insta-love in this book. Instead, there are crushes on two different characters, but both of those crushes would come with real-life consequences that would get in the way of Jessica’s mission, and so she doesn’t really act on them so much as daydream and wonder about what might be. This is a far more realistic approach than most young adult novels, and I love it.
I get the feeling that a lot of long time fans of C. S. Friedman’s writing aren’t going to like this book, not because it isn’t good, but because it’s such a departure from her usual style. Readers, don’t expect epic and twisted sagas in the style of the Magister or Coldfire trilogies. That’s not what this book is supposed to be. It’s a young adult contemporary fantasy story, and Friedman does an excellent job exploring a new genre. I look forward to reading the next installations in the series.