Cata Cordova suffers from such debilitating insomnia that she agreed to take part in an experimental new procedure. She thought things couldn’t get any worse…but she was terribly wrong.
Soon after the experiment begins, there’s a malfunction with the lab equipment, and Cata and six other teen patients are plunged into a shared dreamworld with no memory of how they got there. Even worse, they come to the chilling realization that they are trapped in a place where their worst nightmares have come to life. Hunted by creatures from their darkest imaginations and tormented by secrets they’d rather keep buried, Cata and the others will be forced to band together to face their biggest fears. And if they can’t find a way to defeat their dreams, they will never wake up.
Dreamfall is Inception and an survival game rolled into one. Parts of it reminded me of White Space (which is another awesome sort-of-dream-related book you should check out) – especially the horror parts. Thing is, this is a story of six teens trapped in a shared dream-like state that draws inspiration from their subconscious. The author establishes the canon of the novel splendidly throughout the book, in a way that is not too out of it even by scientific standards. Their shared dreaming is divided into two alternating parts – much like the REM and non-REM stages of sleep, and they alternate between the Void – a blank state where there is nothing else besides them, and Dreamfall – where their nightmares come alive.
The main draw of the novel for me was the dreaming, of course, and the fact that in such a world anything is possible. So you have these tense and horrific scenarios involving nearly every fear these kids have, and they have to survive each Dreamfall cycle and hope to proceed to the Void over and over again. A big disadvantage for them is that they can’t remember how they got there initially – much like a dream, and what they have in common and where they exactly are. While they are piecing together the facts on the inside, which we see through Cata’s and Fergus’ POVs, on the outside, we the readers piece together the character backstories through Jaime, a pre-med intern who was there to observe the experiment. Jaime’s gender is not specified, so I’ll refer to them in they/them. At first, I wasn’t sure what they would contribute to the story which seems to concentrate its action in the dream state but then you see the advantage of having them on the outside to give more clarity into the process and characters, and build up dread as to what that would mean for the ones on the inside.
While the horror is definitely the best part of the novel, keeping you on your toes and not letting you go, it is, at its heart a mystery, too. There are a lot of clues tying back to the reveals at the end of the plot and even though I had my eye on most, I was pleasantly surprised with the twists the author gave to the story. A lot of the story is also psychological in the sense that it deals with kids who have psychological disorders, so it is also a case of mystery in whose dream it is, as well as what it means about them and their pasts.
There were minor things that stopped me from giving it that whole 5 stars, though – the fact that there is no distinct voice. I mean, Jaime is obviously distinct because they are on the outside, but Cata and Fergus are indistinguishable. And since I have read this author’s books before with two different POV characters, I was disappointed that she couldn’t do so for this one. Secondly, while it is definitely a truly good piece of a horror novel, it doesn’t have the anything-is-possible atmosphere completely down, which I would expect from the plot. And finally, I don’t completely agree with the psychopath = evil trope that you see everywhere, but I would like to wait until the next to fully judge it on that.
Overall, this is one horror sci-fi adventure that the genres fans would love. And with the cliffhanger ending, the wait for Neverwake is excruciating.
Received an advance reader copy in exchange for a fair review from Harper Teen, via Edelweiss.