Book Review: Dreamscape by Jenna Whittaker

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Review of Dreamscape

Dreamscape by Jenna Whittaker is a speculative fiction novel that explores a multi-dimensional conflict fought through human instruments. I call this speculative fiction because there’s no magic (at least in the traditional sense), although there are fantasy elements.  I can’t call it science fiction, the story’s through line doesn’t “apparently” depend on the technical elements. In all of this, there is a “mystery” that we are teased with throughout the course of the narrative to discover the nature of the conflict.

The first chapter opens with a baby and things happen.  I’m writing this obliquely because there are events, stuff occurs, and I suppose there’s things I’m supposed to remember for later, but I’m not anchored in the story yet, so I don’t know what the kerfuffle is about. Yes, I get it conceptually.  I haven’t yet been given reason to care is the issue.  In chapter two, we get to Khalos— now we have a character and a setting and I’m in much more familiar territory. This is relatively speaking, there’s more things going on: falling, changing hands, a gryphon.  It’s all treated as connected, and I realize that aspect, but the critical part of me is asking where it’s all going.  Khalos is a baby, then in a whiplash he’s dropped in a forest as a boy.

All right, I’m adaptable—carry on.  This the story does, by chapter 3 the flipping and flittering around in the beginning are forgotten and we’re in a survival narrative.  We have setting, we have sensory, there are good things going on. Like Khalos though there’s this niggling sense of purpose and through-line that I’m missing.  Ignore it, I’m a hyper-critical reviewer.

So, Khalos carries on, he finds refuge with a caravan. In this new setting we’re introduced to Asha, Shen, and most significantly Ianthe. It’s not a survival story now. There’s some anticipation and a sense something will occur. Then chapter seven, it breaks loose, things radically change going through eight and Khalos is an adult.

Here is where the story starts for me. I wouldn’t ordinarily step-by-step a narrative in a review, but this is for readers. Hang in. It comes together.

The narrative advances and there are interesting settings and a sense of urgency and purpose. My main quibble is that we’re never provided a trustworthy context. There is betrayal but the actual depth of it is never felt. By the end I was left with a lot of questions. The way the narrative vacillated between viewpoints didn’t help clarify what was going on and when we reached the final conflict… I decline to ruin it.

Rating (1-5)

Execution :  3.5 — Aside from passive voice and an expositive style, the book presentation is clean and mostly easy to understand. For me, structurally it vacillated too much and not enough was garnered from each disruption to justify the narrative breaks. As a writer and reader, I personally like parallel narratives where events are viewed from opposing viewpoints. This could have been a nail-biter but the ties and emotional threads got over-ridden by author Whittaker’s concern with the “mystery” element. Add to this that we are not given enough information to anticipate or feel the build up to the final conflict. Of a certainty, we know something is coming, but we don’t know enough about it to feel concern.

Setting :  4.0 — There were a number of excellent visual descriptions in this. There are physical registers and we are meant to be put in the world. The expositive style prevents a close character correlation however. The “mystery” and hyperbole don’t let the reader get involved in the setting as we are compelled through the quest. If anything that is the most distracting thing, Khalos is never allowed to engage with the threat with any level of understanding. This leaves him (and the reader) with a pushed around on a chessboard feeling, where the mystery is just frustrating, not adding to tension or anticipation. That aside, there are cool aspects the story, that I ultimately wished were explored in more detail. The Bloodless and their no-harm environmental philosophy had great potential. They didn’t match up with the Machina. This reviewer wonders if author Whittaker is familiar with the phrase “Deus ex machina”. There is also a character named “Admin”. I kept expecting a Matrix kind of thing that never materialized.

Character :  2.0 — Unfortunately, the “mystery” was a horrible liability when it came to understanding the cast. The character we should have known the most about, Ianthe, we ultimately learn nothing about. She is a chess piece taken off the board after setting things in motion. The principle protagonist, Khalos is a good guy, but beyond being the “Keeper” he understands nothing about himself. This is exacerbated by walk-on characters puppeting (no doubt at the author’s insistence) that he is better off not knowing. This is the reviewer insisting… we need to know. Ultimately, there was excellent potential for characters, but they were simply bound and gagged by the “mystery” and no side emotions or relationships were ever allowed to burgeon. I thought the gryphon Kaar was neat. I was disappointed that the full circle thing between her and Khalos was never revealed.

Overall :  3.0 — Dreamscape is author Whittaker’s first professional release. It has its flaws but it is an achievement none-the-less. There is great imagination here and potential for grand adventures.

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