Dreamland was first published in 2015 and is Robert L Anderson’s debut novel. It is a fantasy story that focuses on a teenage girl who has the power to “walk” into other people’s dreams. The novel stands alone, so you don’t have to read any of the author’s other work to fully appreciate it.

Odea “Dea” Donahue has always been an outsider. Ever since she was little, she has been able to walk into the dreams of others. To her, it is as natural as breathing, however her mother has always made clear that there are rules that she must follow. Never be seen, never change anything, and never walk into the same person’s dream more than once. So long as Dea follows these rules, she will be safe.

Dea follows these rules without question until she meets Connor. Once she has tasted Connor’s dreams, she knows that she needs to go back for more. However, Connor is a troubled youth and his dreams are filled with monsters. It’s not long before these faceless creatures seem to become aware of Dea’s presence. And then, they come for her.

When Dea’s mother suddenly vanishes, the police suspect that she has gone on the run. Only Dea realises the truth – the monsters have captured her. Dea knows that she will need to delve further into the Dreamland than ever before if she wants to save her, and the key to doing so lies in Connor’s mind. However, will Connor even want to be close to Dea once he learns what she is capable of?

Dreamland is one of those novels that I liked in theory far more than I did in execution. The concept of the story may not be entirely original, but it was certainly very strong. The most striking element were the haunting scenes that were set within the Dreamland. Whenever Dea walks in dreams, the story takes on a distinctly ethereal quality.

While her experiences don’t follow any kind of real-world logic, they still have rules and are often deeply symbolic of the dreamer’s mental state. They also allow Dea to explore some existentialist concepts, such as whether or not we can ever truly be sure that our world is not just someone else’s dream. While Anderson uses dreams sparingly over the first two hundred pages, the novel builds into a breath-taking final act as Dea finally ventures into the wonderfully imaginative “City” – a non-Euclidean palace populated by living nightmares.

Unfortunately, as much as this concept appeals to me, Dreamland just took far too long to find its feet. The first two hundred and fifty pages of the story were incredibly slow burning and felt unfocused. At times, it seemed as though the novel had not really been written to much of a plan as the third person perspective largely just followed Dea in her day-to-day life. Although the early chapters did vaguely introduce the mystery of Connor’s mother’s murder, the novel lacked any real structure as it explored this.

Plot threads were raised and then forgotten for chapters at a time, and most questions remained unanswered until the final act. While things do occasionally happen, such as the disappearance of Dea’s mother, there is never any lasting sense of threat or urgency. Even when Dea is corned by the police, she manages to immediately give them the slip and simply walks away from them. I never got the sense that she was ever in any real danger due to the fact that the novel was entirely written at the same sedate pace.

As Dreamland entered its final act, it became clear that the novel was not as ambiguous as it first seemed. Dea learns that there is a clear explanation for everything that has happened to her, from the reasons behind her mother’s rules to the nature of the monsters. My biggest issue with this was that everything seemed to fit together a bit too neatly, especially as the first three quarters of the tale tried so hard to be ambiguous. The solutions to the two core mysteries – the identity of Dea’s father and who murdered Connor’s mother – were both incredibly easy to guess and the ending was a bit too abrupt. I definitely think that this novel needs a sequel, as the revelations of final chapter are certainly game-changing. It felt more like the beginning of a new story than the ending of this one!

In terms of characterisation, Dreamland was also a bit varied. Dea was a very strong protagonist in many ways. Despite being physically frail, she was determined to learn the truth about who she is and save her mother. While she did make some incredibly stupid mistakes, you also felt her confusion and frustration as she realised how little control she had over her life. I certainly grew attached to her as the story progressed and really did want her to have a happy ending.

However, Dea’s attraction to Connor bordered on insta-love. She knows him for less than a day before she becomes utterly obsessed with him. It’s also unclear why she becomes so attracted to him so quickly, given that Connor is handsome and kind but also comes across as being a little bland.

It also bothered me a little that the novel never truly addressed how much of an invasion of privacy dream-walking presented. In an early chapter, Dea refused to walk into one of her friend’s dreams for this reason, yet she does not seem to have the same concerns when it comes to Connor. Similarly, we never truly got to find out what Connor thought about Dea’s powers. He does not find out about this until reasonably late in the tale, and it strangely does not really seem to phase him.

Anyhow, I think that I’ve probably said enough. On the whole, Dreamland was unfortunately a bit of a disappointment. The concept was great, but it had some serious issues with its pacing, structure and characterisation. However, for a debut novel, it did still show a lot of promise and I would certainly consider reading more of Anderson’s work in the future.

Dreamland can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook from Amazon.co.uk

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