Many fantasy books deal with the Otherworld in various different forms. It comes in a myriad of names—Avalon, Faerie, the ether—and forms, but one thing that is fairly always clear is that the rules there are different and things are not what they seem. Catherine Walker’s Shattering Dreams, book one of the Being Of Dreams series, captures that mystery in a unique manner, pulling readers into the deeps with relatable characters and a story that is much more than it seems.
The story follows three different characters: Alex, the fourth son of a king; Kyle, his loyal and extremely dangerous best friend; and Jess, the deceptively tame lady and hunter. All three of these characters are possessed of an ability known to their world as “the Taint”. This ability allows them to travel through the veil, a world of shadows and in-between places. The problem is that people who have this “Taint” often go mad in extraordinarily violent ways, making them into beings called the Sundered. Not everyone who has the Taint goes mad—or so Alex, Kyle and Jess have been told—but the veil is still a dangerous place to explore. Shattering Dreams follows these three as they come to terms with their responsibilities—to themselves and to the realm—and their abilities.
At first, I wasn’t quite sure whether or not I would like these characters. For the beginning of the book, they seemed to be intent on debauchery and that was about it. They managed to win me over, though, because their trouble-causing turned into so much more than that. There were things happening behind the scenes which were quite intriguing and dangerous. The characters developed many different facets that made them sympathetic and dynamic. They were presented with a mystery, as well as problems from a mystical perspective, and naturally things started to go wrong. This was the point where I really started to like the characters. Jess is my favourite of the three main characters for the simple fact that she takes no nonsense and could probably kill you with a glare. (As well as several dangerous weapons.)
Catherine Walker managed to take the trope of royals/nobles in fantasy and turn it into something entirely different. In many fantasy novels, you see the royal family and are focused on the Crown Prince or Princess. They are important and know it, no matter if they’re also the chosen one or encounter various difficulties on their way to the throne. Alex, though, was not the Crown Prince and managed to move past the stereotypes that one expects of these sorts of fantasy novels. In fact, all of the characters feel more real and down-to-earth than one often sees in stories revolving around nobility. It is testimony to Catherine Walker’s writing and story that I actually like these characters as much as I do, because often the nobility/royalty story-line is one I find a bit annoying. This story and these characters were not at all annoying.
Of course, one cannot simply have a mysterious veil to explore, nor can we just expect the usual responsibilities to the realm for our characters. No, things have to go spectacularly wrong. And this story definitely does that. Kyle in particular seems to bear the brunt of the problems and, my goodness, what problems they are. (Sorry, Alex, I know you’re meant to be the “main” main character, but honestly, Kyle wins that one.) These problems were less to do with the ability to kill someone and more to do with interpersonal communication. This was a lovely break from the norm and I admit I enjoyed it rather more than I probably should. (I’m a writer. I enjoy watching other writers torment their characters.)
The writing itself flowed very well. The story moved along at a very good pace, pulling me with the story in a way that had me working out the problems with the characters instead of being one step ahead or behind. I wasn’t lost at any point. Excepting, of course, the points where the author wanted me to wonder what was going on. (Note: these questions don’t get answered in book one. I still don’t know what’s going on for some of these things.) I did not feel rushed or bored and that was a welcome relief. However, there were a few parts where some of the information was repeated. It was done to make a point and to be certain that things were explained, but this wasn’t really necessary. It wasn’t a big enough part of the story to be something I would grumble about, but it was there. (I have it from the author that this is fixed in book two, because editors were changed.)
On the whole, I would say that this book was a really interesting one that I liked quite a lot. The characters were fun and had distinct, entertaining personalities. They were engaged in some serious mystries that I enjoyed a lot. The story was well-written and explored past and present in a way that made the veil all that much more intriguing. I would say that this book is a great fantasy adventure that pushes beyond the tropes of a magical adventure and gives you plenty to think about.
Oh, and naturally, the ending had me desperate for book two. At this point, I would expect no less from Catherine Walker.