Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Review | The Darkening Dream - Andy Gavin

I've been promising a review of this for a while now, and at last we reach the inevitable conclusion: delivery! The Darkening Dream is a vampire novel. But before you start turning away with 'Jacob, what have you done?' expressions, let me say this: these vampires aren't sparkly. In fact, they're very much an antidote to the recent craze of likeable, sympathetic monsters who are the targets of teenage girls rather than grizzled vampire hunters.

That's a big point in The Darkening Dream's favour: its vampires are fearsome, powerful, and occasionally genre-savvy - at least enough to evade cliche, a common danger of the staples of the supernatural. Though my opinion of the novel as a whole is more complex, it's a good starting point.

The novel begins in Salem, in the year of 1913: immediately diving outside the norm with its choice of protagonists - Sarah, a young Jewish scholar, and Alex, a Greek immigrant (and according to the blurb, 'attractive': so you can guess where this is heading). And this is an area in which I can applaud the novel once more: while I don't dislike more usual choices, more cultural backgrounds provide more variety - and in the case of Alex, this is definitely true. Alex's family has encountered the undead in the past, so when a local is found murdered - and then comes back - the pair and their friends rapidly become involved. Both are likeable and Sarah in particular is a very strong character: and joyously proactive! (Passive protagonists are a pet peeve, I'll freely admit.) Soon, however, the plot becomes more complex: with the local pastor, a 900 year old vampire, and even an Egyptian god or two after the mystical artefact in Sarah's father's keeping.

While the novel on the whole is well written, one or two scenes were slightly confusing on a first read - and required another look to work out exactly what had occurred. Whether that's desirable or not is a matter of taste, as these were near the tail end of the book. The plot on the whole was compelling, with the antagonists sufficiently threatening, and even - dare I say it - intelligent. (I wouldn't be surprised if one or two had read the Evil Overlord List). And fortunately, the romance subplot doesn't dominate - this isn't paranormal romance.

On the other hand, I'm of mixed mind about the magic used. While the supernatural is close to that of real myth and legend, the setting was firstly slightly confusing in that regard - though the rules for what was used were relatively clear. The Jewish faith was used a lot - and angels definitely stuck around. But so did witchcraft and the Egyptian gods - including the memorable Khepri - leaving open the question of what the limits were. As always, I also had my qualms regarding a magic rooted in theology and prayer. Though making it slightly fresher by basing it on the Jewish faith, it does somewhat take away the tension - after all, if you've a deity on your side... Well. Like real stories of the supernatural, magic is also rooted in a fair amount of blood and *cough* horizontal romantic liason, so while interesting, The Darkening Dream definitely isn't recommended as a YA read - there are some fairly graphic scenes.

All in all? The Darkening Dream is a refreshingly dark urban fantasy that will wipe any trace of vampiric sparkle from your literature. With some original choices as protagonists - both of whom dive, rather than stumble into the supernatural - and a delicious twist or two, this novel is recommended (with the caveats mentioned) to fans of dark urban fantasy who've wearied of the subgenre's conventions. Though no Neil Gaiman, this is more than worth a look.

Find it here: UK US

22 comments:

  1. Ho hum. I think some of the weirdness and in fact the amount of religion involved may have put me off this book, and if it wasn't just the reading slump causing it, I don't think I want those things to be the reason I don't enjoy it. Either way, I shall dive back in soonish I hope! :)

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    1. Hmm, those were my two main qualms too - but despite them, I did find it quite enjoyable (and I'm glad the ending didn't take the easy route out - though I felt it needed a few more pages, which could have been taken from the beginning).

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  2. I really enjoyed this one; it's definitely a welcome addition to the newer vampire fiction out there, since it's darker and the romantic element is more of a side story.

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    1. Definite agreement from me there! I'm not a big fan of vampire fiction - I feel they're been overdone, and are frequently just too romanticised - but I'm glad The Darkening Dream steps away from the recent predominantly romantic trend.

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  3. I got this when it was going for free, but this is really good to hear. May be more than worth the price I paid. :D

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    1. Well, wouldn't be hard! :D As for the novel itself, it has its flaws but is enjoyable despite them - a slightly guilty pleasure if you will, those I felt some of the antagonists verged just too far into cliche.

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  4. Ooooo, loving the sound of this one, thanks! :)
    *off to Amazon*

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  5. Hehe, no problem! Looking forward to seeing your thoughts on it :)

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  6. It's funny how the "these vampires aren't sparkly" thing has become such a necessary, strong selling point...

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    1. Funny, yes, but pretty understandable! Though I'm not a vampire fan by any means, that particular subgenre has focused rather on the angsty vampires as romantic objects rather than the original 'terrifying monsters' part. :P An Twilight, with its 'sparliness', has exemplified the trend.

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