Dreamwielder started in the middle of the action, set in a world that had already been conquered and one where magic is outlawed. I love that that it started in the middle, because we’re thrown into a world that is dealing with the aftermath of this–dealing with the aftermath of wars, usurpations, and failed rebellions–but that is not the entire focus of the novel. We meet Makarria, a girl who has strange power in her dreams, as one of the people trying to eke out a life with her family. Far from the Emperor’s realm, Makarria believes that life is only about the small farmstead by the sea. Forbidden to dream by her parents, Makarria does her best to obey. When her dreams create something that put her on the Emperor’s map, she flees and begins to understand that her life is not as simple as she had thought. With a well-written cast of characters, Dreamwielder surpassed my expectations of what sort of fantasy novel this was.
I was really impressed with the characters in this. Divided between several characters of different backgrounds, Garrett Calcaterra blended each of their stories and lives into a cohesive narrative that I loved. It was a little slow at first because of the world-building, but as the world and characters built, I eventually couldn’t wait to see what Calcaterra came up with next. The cast was diverse in age, so that meant that their experiences were all different. I wasn’t treated to a book with characters that were so similar they may as well have been one. One of them was a prince who was a hostage–my particular favorite because he had no magic in this world of magic. I liked reading how he coped with having a sister who had visions and dealt with being a protector who had no powers other than his own fighting talent. On the opposite side of that was Makarria, a girl who had lost her family and was slowly discovering just what her talents could do. All of the characters were strong, and I appreciated that the female characters didn’t wait around to be rescued. I liked that they surprised the male characters with their actions.
I also enjoyed that there were secrets surrounding the characters and they were often unaware of these secrets themselves. I like when the author treats the reader to a little more information than what the characters know, because it’s fun to read how they’re revealed to the characters. Reading as their paths got closer together made for some exciting reading.
Although Dreamwielder has the potential to be entirely full of clichés, it’s well-written enough that you hardly notice there are even clichés. Dreamwielder begins with an idea of a series of kingdoms under siege and in a hostage situation. A ruler has come in and conquered these kingdoms but allows them to still have agency in their own cities, provided they send an heir to be held hostage at another location. There’s a focus on the political and the tensions that come with that, but that focus is also wrapped up in magic. Originally, the kingdoms were full of sorcerers who wielded magic for the good of their kingdoms. When the conqueror came in, he killed many of those who had magic and others went into hiding. It’s kind of like a young adult Game of Thrones, but done in a way where you don’t have the potential to mix up the vast cast of characters.
My favorite aspect of this novel was how magic was pitted against the mechanical. Magic is in the past and is viewed by the Emperor and his supporters as something that stands in the way of progress. By vilifying it, the Emperor maintains his control over the world. The repercussions of having it or protecting it are so severe that people are willing to turn in their neighbors in order to protect themselves. It’s entirely a way to keep people from rebelling. The Emperor’s home city is vastly different than that of the formerly magical cities. I really liked reading the industrial parts of it, because it was so different.
The world created in Dreamwielder is similar to other fantasy stories, but because of the strong characters and clear writing, it ended up being more than just another young adult fantasy novel. I wasn’t disappointed in how the book was divided between several characters because all of their smaller stories made up the whole. I was really interested in dreaming as a power and am interested in seeing how Makarria grows in the next novel. I recommend it for readers who like fantasy, magic, and the threat of overlords.
I received a copy of Dreamwielder from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Dreamwielder was published September 29th, 2015.