1913, Salem, Massachusetts – Sarah Engelmann’s life is as normal as can be until a picnic with friends uncovers a grisly murder. Together, they work to unravel the mystery behind a boy’s death and it takes a turn for the strange because the boy does not stay buried. He comes back as a vampire. This is just the start of a rollercoaster ride into the supernatural realm, with vampires, demons, black magic, and a trio of Egyptian gods all working toward one thing: an ancient relic that will start the End of Days. The challenge for Sarah is to balance her growing attraction for Alex – a boy who knows entirely too much about vampires outside of the Stoker novel – and what needs to be done to save the lives of not just her friends and family, but everyone in the world.
Andy Gavin’s prose is both the star and downfall of this book. On the one hand, it’s tight and lyrical, moves swiftly through a rich narrative that deftly combines supernatural elements that really should not work together. It’s unflinching with regard to violence and sexuality, the fantasy aspects are introduced gradually to feel organic, and the characters are all quite likeable, right down to the villains.
On the other, the characters aren’t distinctive enough to support the constant shifts of perspective every chapter – the result is jarring, confusing, and so much time is spent dancing around between characters in an effort to establish the cast that the book’s first act feels tedious. It also renders the two main characters of Sarah and Alex quite bland as they have the same feelings for each other, described in much the same way. It’s a pity, because their romance is delightfully bittersweet; Sarah is Jewish, Alex is an Orthodox Greek, their families would never really approve of a union, so any affection she has with Alex must be shared in secret when their lives aren’t in immediate danger.
And then there’s the ending. To avoid spoilers, let me just say that it seems unresolved despite all the foreshadowing. It makes more sense if this is the first book in a series, otherwise it’s a strange and unsatisfying conclusion. A good place to stop reading is the end of chapter 64, or 68 if you’re feeling masochistic.
Even with its issues, there are no words that I can use to adequately describe just how gloriously insane this book is. The summary in this review is just the bare bones; the actual story is just so out and keeps snowballing, it’s compelling to read on to see just how weird it can get. While the book is aimed at a YA audience, adults will also get a kick out of a truly original story with a new take on familiar legends.
Title: The Darkening Dream
Author: Andy Gavin
Genre: YA Fantasy
Publication: Mascherato Publishing; December 22nd, 2011
Price: $2.99 (Kindle), $10.79 (paperback), $24.00 (hardcover)
Author’s Website: http://all-things-andy-gavin.com/author/