Old School Wednesdays is a weekly Book Smuggler feature. We came up with the idea towards the end of 2012, when both Ana and Thea were feeling exhausted from the never-ending inundation of New and Shiny (and often over-hyped) books. What better way to snap out of a reading fugue than to take a mini-vacation into the past?
Logo designed by the wonderful KMont
Today, we both read the Dreamhunter Duet by Elizabeth Knox
Title: Dreamhunter / Dreamquake
Author: Elizabeth Knox
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux / Square Fish
Publication date: 2005-2007
Paperback: 365/442 pages
Laura comes from a world similar to our own except for one difference: it is next to the Place, an unfathomable land that fosters dreams of every kind and is inaccessible to all but a select few, the Dreamhunters. These are individuals with special gifts: the ability to catch larger-than-life dreams and relay them to audiences in the magnificent dream palace, the Rainbow Opera. People travel from all around to experience the benefits of the hunters’ unique visions. Now fifteen-year-old Laura and her cousin Rose, daughters of Dreamhunters, are eligible to test themselves at the Place and find out whether they qualify for the passage. But nothing can prepare them for what they are about to discover. For within the Place lies a horrific secret kept hidden by corrupt members of the government. And when Laura’s father, the man who discovered the Place, disappears, she realizes that this secret has the power to destroy everyone she loves . . .
In the midst of a fascinating landscape, Laura’s dreamy childhood is ending and a nightmare beginning. This rich novel, filled with beauty, danger, politics, and intrigue, comes to a powerful crescendo, leaving readers clamoring for Book Two.
The dreamhunting began as a beautiful thing, when Tziga Hame discovered that he could enter the Place and share the dreams he found there with other people. But Tziga Hame has disappeared and Laura, his daughter, knows that the art of projecting dreams has turned sour. On St. Lazarus’s Eve, when elite citizens gather at the Rainbow Opera to experience the sweet dream of Homecoming, Laura, determined to show them the truth, plunges them into the nightmare used to control the convict workers. The event marks the first blow in the battle for control of the Place, the source of dreams. Then, when Laura’s cousin, Rose, uncovers evidence that the government has been building a secret rail line deep into the Place, Laura follows it to find out what lies at its end. As she struggles to counter the government’s sinister plans, a deeper mystery surfaces, a puzzle only Laura can unravel, a puzzle having to do with the very nature of the Place. What is the Place, after all? And what does it want from her?
Inventive and richly imagined, Elizabeth Knox’s dramatic conclusion will satisfy readers – whether or not they’ve read Book One.
Standalone or series: Dreamhunter Duology (really, two parts of a single full story, hence the double review today!)
How did we get these books: Bought
Format (e- or p-): Print Books
Why did we read this book: This duology came highly recommended by some of our readers. Ana bought and read both books in a frenzy over two days when visiting her family in Brazil last May. She knew Thea HAD to read them too, so she brought both books with her to New York for the annual BEA Smuggler Meetup. A joint double-feature review ensued.
Part 1: The Spoiler-Free Review
Dreamhunter and Dreamquake are the two Fantasy novels that form the Dreamhunter Duet – they have been originally published separately but are effectively one story in two parts, hence this combined review. The two books were actually published in Australia as one omnibus edition called The Invisible Road.
The Dreamhunter Duet is set Southland, an alternate version of a New Zealand that has been colonised by 5 migrating families (some of them descended from Bible’s Lazarus). It features a story about families, about cousins, about lovers, and about friends. It is also a story about power and politics and dreams.
Above all, it is a story about a place. The Place. The Place is a fantastical realm that appeared suddenly a few years back and where a few specific people (dreamhunters) can travel into to capture dreams.
In terms of worldbuilding, there is a whole industry that has been built around The Place: dreamhunters capture dreams and then broadcast them to a paying, sleeping audience that gets to live through amazing experiences . In Southland’s capital, the most famous broadcasting place is the Rainbow Opera where the biggest names in dreamhunting can make a fortune. But it all goes much beyond that: Dreamhunting also affects the future generations of this nation because young people dream of becoming hunters (so that they can improve their lives) and there are also questions of politics, economic progress, fame and fortune connected to The Place and its different uses (most of them benign, some of them horrifyingly nightmarish).
Two of the most famous, most powerful Dreamhunter families are the Tiebolds and the Hames. Cousins-almost-sisters Rose Tiebold and Laura Hame are reaching the age where teenagers can try out dreamhunting and whereas Rose dreams about it and has built her entire life around it, Laura dreads the moment. Surprisingly, it is Laura who succeeds in becoming a Dreamhunter. The story follows the two girls as they deal with disappointments and successes and the narrative follows the two as well as the other members of their family. The overarching plot deals with a recurring dream that Laura’s father Tziga has and the mysterious uses he makes of it – all connected with a political plot.
And this is only but the barest bones of the duet. I devoured it like there wasn’t tomorrow a few months ago and although I admit that the details are now slightly fuzzy, the overwhelming impression I still carry with me is how this was simultaneously uniquely remarkable and horrifyingly problematic.
There is a LOT to unpack here: I think overall, in terms of worldbuilding, it is a remarkable fantasy and I have not read anything quite like it before. Everything in book 1 (and the vast majority of book 2) just blew my mind away in terms of the concept of the dreamhunting, the details of the world constructed around it, the combination with Judeo mythology (the early families who settled there, the Hame’s ability to create Golems ), the two girls’ friendship, how thematically speaking it all centres around free will and decision-making. I loved that the novel is constantly changing viewpoints and that we get to spend time with the adults and see their relationship with each other. I enjoyed the sweet romance between Laura and the young Sandy and above all I LOVED Rose, her forthrightness and the way she struggles to find meaning in the life that she has to build after her dreams of dreamhunting have been destroyed.
I also loved the way that gender roles are played and how Laura’s uncle (Rose’s father) is the central maternal figure of the story, for example. There is so much that is interesting and engaging with the topics of politics, power, family dynamics, gender roles, identity in these books.
It all sounds awesome, right?
The revelations at the end of the book and the ultimate resolution ruined the whole thing for me – my reaction is a blend of EXTREME personal dislike (I did not care for how things ended for the two girls and I had problems with a certain “vibe” I found in the narrative) and my questioning of the overall arc and general worldbuilding that make no sense after the final twist is revealed.
More about those in the discussion in the second part of this review.
I just wanted to end my part by saying this: I thought reading this was well worth it for the family dynamics and the impressive imagery. Despite my personal aversion for how things ended up, I still do not regret reading it.
(In other words: these are the most amazing books I have ever hated. Or the most fucked up books I have ever loved. Or something.)
I am both grateful and appalled that Ana put these books into my hands after reading them.
I am grateful, because as Ana says, the Dreamhunter Duology is mindblowingly amazing when it comes to worldbuilding, basic premise, writing style, and imagination. The concept of The Place – a mysterious land to which only a select few can travel, and even more select few can capture and rebroadcast dreams – is fascinating. The idea of “dreamhunting” itself and the commercialization and institutionalization of certain dreams is also unique and freaking fantastic. The Place and Dreams are a mystery, and I love the questions posed especially by the first book. Why are dreams tied to certain locations? Why do they feature certain central figures (convicts, in particular)? What do the dreams mean and where are they coming from?
Beyond the outstanding premise and world, I also loved the female characters in the duology, especially Rose (Laura…well, more on that in the spoiler section). Even though this is an alternate world set in the early 1900s, I love that Rose, her powerful dreamhunter mother, and even at certain points Laura (but really, more on that in a bit) are women that have agency and are empowered and make their own decisions – be it with friends, having sex for the first time, surviving a fire, and so on. I love the threads of friendship and of family in both of these books, especially when it comes to cousin Rose and her relationship with both her mother and cousin (who is really like a sister) Laura.
ALL THAT SAID – I agree with Ana in that there are some major, un-overlook-able problems with the book. I personally did not care for the ending – scratch that. I personally hated the ending of the book. While everything is nicely resolved and all the questions are answered (about dreams, The Place, Laura’s EXTRA SPECIAL SPECIALNESS), I resented the resolution and its implications. I hated the way that the girls’ storylines are tied up; I especially abhorred the romantic elements to this story so far as Rose and Laura are concerned. Especially Laura (whose character is basically ruined for me completely). Finally, this also bothers me deeply: the fact that this takes place in a kinda-sorta version of New Zealand, but a New Zealand that has been completely erased of its Maori population and history (more on that below).
Ultimately, I am torn when it comes to this duology. It’s undeniably brilliant, with an imaginative scope that is off the charts. It’s also incredibly infuriating, and left me feeling both creeped out and ripped off. Do I recommend it? Yes, because it is a duology that SHOULD be read, dissected, appreciated, and debated.
(In other words: I understand why Ana told me to read these books – because this is the type of thing that needs to be discussed. With spoilers. Below.)
Part 2: Book Discussion with ALL THE SPOILERS
**READER BEWARE! Spoilers follow below. If you have not read the duology and do not wish to be spoiled, LOOK AWAY**
After Thea finished the books, both of us frantically sent a flurry of emails back and forth and have condensed all our feelings into the following few key points. Ready?
1. It is revealed that the Place was created by Lazarus Hame, the future son of Laura and Sandy. This Future!Lazarus! has a terrible life and so he buries himself alive and accidentally creates a living thing – THE PLACE! – which broadcasts his dreams from the future into the past as an attempt to communicate with other Hames so they can… help him. Survive. Because The Place is a NOWN, and NOWN is required to protect Laura Hame and all those she cares for NO MATTER WHAT. We both loved this (TIME TRAVEL! THE PLACE IS A SAND GOLEM!) and hated this (it is all about Laura and Sandy and their son and Laura’s innate greatness and goodness???!!!!!! WHYYYYYYYYY! What a waste of a perfectly good premise!). (Not to mention, OF COURSE after Laura has sex with Sandy, he supposedly dies and then Laura discovers she is pregnant. This is one of our most irritating pet peeves in literature. NO.)
2. This creates a HUGE worldbuilding problem. If this is all about the Hame family and very specifically about their ability to create golems and shape clay/sand/dust/ash/food items into living things, HOW AND WHY can other people (non-Hames) become Dreamhunters and Rangers? How can they enter The Place at all? What about the other dreams (the Gate dream comes to mind)? There’s also the problem of paradoxes and fractured timelines. When Lazarus rises from the grave – where he has been buried alive but not dead for years and years – he is alive. And yet, his memories of his past are intrinsically tied to the existence of The Place in his childhood and his upbringing with his single mother (who is no longer a single mother). There’s a “many worlds” explanation that would allow this to work, but it feels a bit like a cheap cop-out.
3. In the end, the two extremely young female protagonists end up the book married and with children. Laura finds Lazarus and saves him and then learns that he is her son. This happens exactly at the point at which she realises she is pregnant with her supposedly dead boyfriend’s baby. But because she KNOWS Lazarus, she has no choice but to keep the baby. Our feelings about this are complicated: do we accept this as Laura’s CHOICE or do we think this is not a “choice” at all because it was imposed on her by the plot? Laura is also effectively stripped of ANY agency because she acts on things that she is TOLD to do by her father, by her family, and even by fate itself. The whole history of this world and the entire plot hinges on young Laura having baby Lazarus. It is the end-all and the origin of the whole story. (Except for the fact that this Lazarus is from an alternate timeline and might not matter at all if Laura keeps the baby?)
Meanwhile, Rose marries Future!Lazarus! who is her cousin (we can even say that it is almost her nephew if you think how close she and Laura are, like sisters!!!) who is also a MUCH older man. Rose and her husband (Future!Lazarus!) live together with their daughter as well as Laura, Sandy and Baby!Lazarus!, whom Rose helps raise. It’s so fucked up we can’t even, especially considering the next point:
4. In the beginning of book Laura, in the footsteps of her father, creates a Golem, called NOWN. The relationship between Laura and NOWN is SO SO CREEPY. The creative impulse behind Laura’s creation of NOWN (and then giving him his free will) is undeniably because of her desire for a father figure to take care of her following Tziga – her real father – and his disappearance. She creates NOWN to make decisions for her and to love her like a father tending a child… and more. There is DEFINITELY a sexual vibe between Laura and NOWN, with her need for NOWN to “cherish” her and love her in a very un-fatherly kind of way.
Basically, the duology as a whole has a really weird, really pervasive incestuous vibe going on that is never questioned at all.
5. Finally, a point that we find DEEPLY, INTENSELY problematic: erasing people from history. The story takes place in an alternate history New Zealand-inspired location. BUT in this world, there are no natives to New Zealand at all. The island was colonized by the five migrating families who arrive to find the island empty…and that’s it. So BASICALLY the Maori – the indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand, who made their way to the islands in 1250-1300 CE – have been ERASED FROM HISTORY.
And that is all we have to say about that.
Thea: I am torn. I would give this book an 8 for imagination and worldbuilding, but a 4 for emotional payoff and execution. Let’s split the difference at 5 – Meh.
Buy the Books:
(click on the links to purchase)