It’s such a lovely idea: you fall asleep and your dreams are actually about another world. And just a few special people are Gifted: able to move between the two worlds physically. So this is a portal story, one of those tales with a dull, modern-day section which then shifts in an instant into a far more interesting fantasy world with swords and whatnot. The twist here is that every time the main character falls asleep in the interesting fantasy world – bam, he’s back in the dull modern world.
The fantasy world is not the most complicated ever.
The map gives it away. There are a few rivers and hills, a sprinkling
of cities, a castle and – erm, that’s about it. And no, dropping in
phrases like ‘a white fillet of summerton and a peeled sopple floating
in its bowl of sweet craniss wine’ doesn’t give it a more authentic
depth. However, it does have a slightly steampunk air, with pistols and a
steam-powered cable-car for long distance travel, which is quite cool.
But (phew!) there are still swords and horse-riding soldiers who gallop
into battle. So that’s all right then. Sadly, the modern world is every
bit as dull as it usually is.
So here’s the plot. Every once in a
while, a Gifted turns up who can cross freely between the two worlds.
The last one was a total disaster, so when Chris finds himself the
latest Gifted, he’s not exactly welcomed with open arms. The king just
wants him to keep out of the way of the coming war. The religious
fanatics want to use him as an excuse for trouble. The Searcher, the
king’s daughter Alarra, has unresolved issues because of her failure to
manage the previous Gifted. And as soon as he arrives in parallel world
Lael, Chris is manipulated into bringing war-mongering Mactalde across
from the modern world, thereby creating a tear in the space-time
continuum. Or something. Something bad, anyway, since it makes the
The characters are the usual thing. Feisty
independent princess. Check. Brave but sensitive manly type. Check.
Stalwart, fiercely loyal old retainer. Check. Heroic but tormented
warrior-type. Check. Evil villain. Oh yes. Amusing and/or irritating
sidekicks. Check. Check. Check. There’s also a talking winged beast of
some sort, who is supposed to keep the important characters informed but
actually withholds vital information for his own (presumably
plot-related) reasons. Which is terribly convenient.
author has done a good job of giving all the characters strong
background stories, but this does rather substitute for actual
characterisation. Stripping away the layers of guilt and fear and anger
and betrayal around them leaves not much more than the bald stereotypes
mentioned above. And then they will angst about it endlessly. I’m not a
big fan of angsty characters, and, to be honest, I got a bit cross with
them here. Chris, for instance, is weighed down with guilt because he
brought Mactalde back, but since no one told him the truth, how was he
supposed to know? And Allara is weighed down with guilt because she
failed with the previous Gifted. Ye gods, she was nine years old at the
time, being advised by a winged beastie who makes the Sphinx look like a
model of clarity. Guys, it wasn’t your fault, OK?
I confess to
having problems with the logic behind the basic premise. Yes, I know,
magic... duh. But still, it should make some sort of sense. So we have
these dual worlds, each one the dream world of the other. And the same
people exist in both worlds. They do different jobs, but they’re the
same people. You can die in one but your doppelganger lives on. So that
boggled my mind right away. Then there’s the whole dreams business. You
fall asleep in one and you wake up in the other? But... but... most
people don’t sleep more than eight or so hours a day, so you get eight
hours’ sleep in one world, eight hours in the other and... what happens
to the other eight? OK, so I may be overthinking this, and to be fair
Chris does seem to sleep a lot, in one world or the other, so I guess it
A more serious problem is that the characters do
really stupid things. I’ve already mentioned that Chris was manipulated
into bringing Mactalde back, and I don’t totally blame him for that, but
when some people are saying, ‘Yes, yes, do it, it’ll totally fix
everything” and others are saying, “This is a really, really bad idea”,
it might be smart to ask a few more questions, don’t you think? And
thereafter the guy is constantly leaping into his horse or one of the
cool skycar thingies to rush into battle or rescue people who’ve been
given up for dead. In fact, the whole bang lot of them are prone to the
horse-leaping and rushing and rescuing thing, including the king’s
entire family. Well, it shifts the plot along, I suppose. But then the
guy who betrayed them sends a message that he has some useful
information, but Chris has meet him alone... I mean really, who is
stupid enough to do that? Well, Chris, apparently. Doh.
all this sounds as if I didn’t like the book, actually, I did, on the
whole. It was entertaining and readable in a lightweight way, and for a
bit of easily-digested fluff it’s very effective. As long as you don’t
think too hard about it, it all works very well. By the middle of the
book, it had settled down into a nicely paced, if over dramatic, tale.
Latterly it degenerated into one of those
we’re-all-doomed-we’re-saved!-oh-no-we’re-all-doomed see-saws, with our
heroes implausibly surviving every tricky moment while the baddies are
constantly two steps ahead. Which was, in places, eye-rollingly silly.
But then came the ending, one of those unexpected moments when the
author takes the mature, difficult, but obviously logical road. I love
it when that happens. So kudos to the author, and extra brownie points.
Recommended for anyone who likes relentless action and is able to switch
off the but-but-why? side of their brain. Three stars.