I have to admit, this book gave me at least one nightmare. It wasn’t the worst I’d ever had, but it involved dead puppies, so it was pretty bad.
It’s not that I found the book to be scary, per se, but the premise is a great one for a horror movie: For reasons unknown, if people have a nightmare, they will wake up and become their nightmare. This could mean a variety of things. Some people just disappear, so no one really knows what their nightmare was. Some people turn into things like giant man-eating spiders and cockroaches that must be killed, so they also die. But some people live as nightmares, like the mayor’s pet pterodactyl or Vanessa Near’s boss, who is a lizard. This also means that we are in a world where there are vampires, and there are at least a dozen varieties, based on the person’s idea of what a vampire is with variations from aversions to garlic, sunlight, or silver, the inability to show a reflection, or the ability to turn other people into vampires (the only strain people are concerned with eradicating).
There is a way to combat this from happening, besides already having a nightmare, which seems to prevent future transitions, there are nightmare-prevention drugs and even a water-additive in more populous areas. But of course, there are issues with these measures, first of which I am personally prone to – forgetting to take your meds. But also there is the fact that alcohol inhibits the effects of these drugs, so I’m sure you can guess how well that goes over.
Besides all of this, our setting is basically Gotham. Not literally, but Newham (which I think might be in England somewhere) is rife with dirty politicians, an over-active underground, and even pseudo-superheroes. It’s basically an anything-goes kind of place.
So I mentioned Vanessa Near. This is her story. She is living and working with a group (cult?) that helps people with PTSD from nightmares. Vanessa’s sister became a nightmare and was killed and Vanessa has not been able to move past the fear and anxiety this has caused her. So she works to help others and lives in a small, isolated room where she feels safe. Her life is uncomfortable, but stable.
Vanessa ends up surviving a bombing and making friends with a living nightmare, which challenges a lot of her beliefs. As she tries to figure out why the bombing occurred, she has to navigate the underworld of Newham and overcome a lot of her own issues.
And this is where the book loses me a little. I started to get annoyed with Vanessa, or Ness, about half-way through. She makes a big deal about what a coward she is, so much so, it’s kind of a running joke throughout the book. Fine, I get it. But some of her reactions to things are so over the top, I started making notes, like “really?!” “still?” and “these reactions are dumb.”
I also probably should have realized sooner that the book is a bit tongue in cheek. So when some of the more over-the-top things were happening, I was more annoyed that amused. I think if I had caught on a little sooner, I might have had a different reaction. I don’t know if it was me not getting it, or if there was something about the writing that was keeping me from getting it.
I also felt that some of the conversations were lacking. Like when Ness is psychoanalyzing one of the villains and telling them why people get jealous – which is because they’re afraid of their partner leaving them and being lonely and because they’re insecure. Truth. I don’t disagree with this. But it came across as some ingenious monologue that disarms the villain. I don’t know, I wasn’t blown away. I felt like there were several exchanges like this. But this is a YA book, so I’ll give Schaeffer some forgiveness for that.
And just as I was getting annoyed about half way, two thirds in, Schaeffer redeemed herself. I felt the ending was satisfying. And while Ness was lackluster and captain obvious, she has an encounter that provides some explanation for the nightmare world that came through for me. Schaeffer ends on a bit of a cliff-hanger and I think I’ll hang on for the next one – maybe a little better prepared now that I understand her writing style.