A guest review by Jenre
The Trust and its battle-hardened recruits are fighting a horrific war, a war between the humans of this world and the demons of the Dreamlands. In this shadowy battle, Keno Inuzaka is merely a pawn: first an innocent bystander imprisoned and abused by the Trust, then a captive of a demon oni when taken to the Dreamlands. But oni Samojirou Aboshi treats the human with unexpected care and respect, and the demon only just earns Keno’s trust when a team from the Trust arrives to exploit the Dreamlands’ magic. As the war spreads across both worlds, Keno is torn between them. If he survives, he faces a decision: go home and carve out a new life under the Trust’s thumb… or stay in the Dreamlands and find freedom in love.
Dreamlands is told by three different first person points of view. Firstly, there is that of Mason, an African American man working for a Boston based secret agency called Global International run by ‘trustees’. Mason is in security and his job is to protect the building and its inhabitants from attacks from the Dreamlands. These attacks are usually in the form of monsters who get through portals and reap havoc when they do. Secondly, there is Keno, a young Japanese man who was dragged from his college dorm room and kidnapped by the agency for accidentally breaking into their computer system. Keno is then held captive and forced to work as a IT technician whilst also being verbally and physically abused by his coworkers. Thirdly, there is Samojirou, a Japanese demon or Oni who lives in the Dreamlands after being banished by a lover.
The book begins in confusion as Mason recounts a breach in the building caused by one of the agency workers, Heiseg, who is able to use magic. Monsters pour in and devour many of the technicians and in the chaos Heiseg goes mad and rapes Keno who was unfortunate to be caught up in the situation. Suddenly a beautiful woman appears and sets her ‘reapers’ on killing the monsters and then disappears, taking Keno with her. The view switches to Samojirou. He is the consort of the beautiful lady, Tamazusa, who gifts Samojirou with Keno to be his companion and lover. The story then follows Keno as Samojirou attempts to gain his trust after his horrific experience and also switches backwards and forwards from the Dreamlands to Boston as Mason and his co-workers attempt to open a portal to the dreamlands to find out what happened to Keno.
One of the ongoing themes of this book is the contrast between the so-called monsters or demons in the Dreamlands and the civilised humans in the real world. Every single one of the humans, including Mason come across as selfish, conniving and generally unpleasant. The demons, however, treat Keno with courtesy, kindness and compassion. They strongly observe the traditions from ancient Japan and to them honour and esteem mean a lot. There’s a lot of black humour to be derived, through Mason, when the demons and the humans eventually meet, especially in the way that both parties conduct themselves. I found this part of the book, set in the Dreamlands to be the most interesting and well written section.
Whilst the interweaving first person narratives were certainly one of the most unusual things about this book, it was also perhaps its weakest aspect. This was not because of a lack of individuality in the voices of the three characters – quite the opposite in fact, but rather that the changes in voice often heralded a change in scene which made some of the book seem a little choppy. The three first person point of views allows more perspective than a single first person pov, but it is still limiting enough that you are never quite sure of the motivations of the other characters. Whether you will enjoy that will depend on your opinions of books written in the first person. I thought it worked well, especially with Keno and Samojirou. However, I found Mason, in particular, to be difficult to understand in the way that he spoke and didn’t really like the sections where we had his point of view, especially as it was often used to break up the story of Keno and Samojirou. I found myself getting impatient and tempted to skip on back to the Dreamlands setting as I was more interested in those sympathetic characters than the humans in the real world. This got better when all the characters got together in the Dreamlands. Another side effect of have all the humans as unsympathetic characters was that I didn’t particularly care for any of them, even Mason, which meant that any of the dramatic tension in the all-action end section was lost as I was hoping that all the humans, apart from Keno, would come to a sticky end. One other confusing aspect was that three of the human characters had names that began with the same letter – Mason, Murphy and McGann – whilst this is only a minor annoyance, it did make it slightly difficult to work out who was who at first which may be another reason why I didn’t warm to the humans as much as the demons.
One aspect which was done extremely well was the world building which was rich and intricate. The Dreamlands, in particular, contained a wealth of information and history, not just in the main characters but in secondary characters (of which there were many) and even the land itself. The Dreamlands follows a pattern similar to ancient Japan with many hierarchies in terms of position in society and although I’m not entirely familiar with Japanese history, I knew enough that the place seemed familiar but still retain its mystery as a good fantasy setting should.
If you like fantasy and urban fantasy (of which this book seems to be a mix), then I would highly recommend that you read this book. There is enough in Dreamlands to satisfy those with a taste for gentle romance, for action sequences, for character driven stories and also (as a brief warning) mindless violence, especially towards the end of the book. Felicitas Ivey is a new author and I’m very impressed with this book as a first novel. I shall be keeping a look out for her books in future.