God I wanted Where Dreams Descend to be everything. I really, really did. It seemed so perfect on paper; magic, sexy dark undertones, danger, a lost city, a competition and dark forces. But unfortunately what I got seemed much more like a draft than a finished book.
Please don’t get me wrong: I see potential in the author (and hopefully the continuation of the story, as this is a duology) and I really don’t wanna shit on this because I can tell that this is a real labour of love for the author, and that it means an immense amount to her. Some of her stories on Instagram are so inspiring and it’s clear that this book, and some of its characters, are so important to her. So when I give my negative points please don’t think I’m doing it out of careless spite – but this book had a lot of problems and I strive for honesty in my reviews, so I’m going to point those problems out.
It’s also worth noting that I am a cynical asshole at the best of times, and I’ve been known to be relatively hard to please when it comes to YA fantasy. So perhaps take my review with the amount of salt on the average portion of McDonald’s French fries.
Before I get started into the meat of my review, let me just get this out there: I predict that this book/series will be as big as Caraval, and if not as big, then definitely nipping at its heels. And I wouldn’t be surprised if it ends up as a special edition at some point – perhaps even in Fairyloot, Owlcrate or other subscription box.
Ok, on to the main event!
Where Dreams Descend is billed as “Moulin Rouge meets The Phantom of the Opera” and my word if that isn’t a ballsy statement to make right off the bat! Unfortunately I think this statement will be to the books detriment and it’s going to suffer the dreaded over-hype.
I’m not super familiar with The Phantom of the Opera, but I know enough to know I didn’t recognise much other than a brief homage to it within the pages of Where Dreams Descend. Now Moulin Rouge on the other hand, at least Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation I am very well acquainted with and I have to say I didn’t see it anywhere in Where Dreams Descend, except maybe in Kallia’s red dress…maybe?
A comparison like that would have me expecting a haunting story infused with magic, mayhem, power and passion – which coincidently is also what the back of the arc promises. And because my expectations have been made to soar to the skies, you can only imagine my disappointment when Where Dreams Descend only sorta kinda hit the marks it promised.
Let me start with quite possibly the biggest problem I had with the book: I had next to no idea what was going on from start to finish. 400+ pages later and I still don’t really know much of anything to do with world-building, characters, plot or main goal for the protagonist.
The world-building, or lack of it, is probably the biggest weakness overall. And I’m throwing the plot in with this too, because they are linked. Where Dreams Descend is a fantasy set in a place that we don’t have in the dreaded real world. Therefore we need a lot of context and descriptions for the world our characters are in to help us build some visuals. We didn’t get any of this other than the names of some cities, like Glorian.
There was also no clear endgame. Our MC Kallia is essentially a showgirl at Jack’s Hellfire house – a kinda magical nightclub. Kallia has spent her life trapped by Jack and she is a powerful magician, after being taught by Jack, who wants to go to Glorian to compete in a magician’s competition but Jack says no. She escapes and competes and is massively overpowered compared to others there, and Jacks is kinda a shadow lurking in the mirrors stalking her the whole time. Then some bad things happen in Glorian and it’s all spooky and dark and there’s clearly something else going on. There’s also a kinda maybe sorta love triangle with Kallia, Jack and Kallia’s magical mentor, Demarco. Demarco has a hidden past and is trying to uncover a secret.
And I’m not exaggerating when I say that’s literally all I know after over 400 pages. Ultimately I know that there’s a bunch of characters running from their mysterious pasts, there’s some hidden world or demons or something in mirrors and there’s a magicians completion.
What I don’t know could fill a book. A 400+ page book. A 400+ page book called Where Dreams Descend because that’s what it should have been filled with – answers! I have no idea what the competition means, why they even have it, what the magicians win – none of it. I also don’t know anything about the characters, their pasts or their motivations above the most superficial first layer of personality; Kallia is determined to prove herself, Aaros (her assistant) is funny, Jacks is controlling and Demarco is brooding.
I don’t know anything more for the ‘ultimate goal’ for the plot. I have no idea what is going on and why the characters even care really, so why should I? it’s really hard to care. I know we’re probably gonna get more information in the sequel but I’d have appreciated a plot and characterisation within the pages of Where Dreams Descend because I’ve got no idea. I don’t even know what the character look like due to a lack of physical descriptions throughout.
I know we’re supposed to like Kallia the most, but she came across so arrogant and unlikable as soon as she made it to Glorian, and Demarco had a one-note personality. And don’t even get me started on the near unbearable back-and-forth, yes-no angst between the love interests. I’d like to call it enemies to lovers (cos I’m trash for that) but I can’t, because we don’y know enough about these characters in the first place to even try to draw that conclusion!
I wanted to know more about Jack because, honestly, he’s the most interesting character and we got sod all from him anyway! But what I do know is that he can erase memories (although why or how are never made clear) and he owns the nightclub, and he’s clearly more powerful than Kallia because he taught her everything she knows, and he talks to these things in the mirrors. More of that please.
Look, I can tell that there was a conscious effort to withhold information from the readers. I get that – it adds to the intrigue and there’s probably a rug-pull moment coming in the next book. But there was just too little information about anything and everything here for finishing Where Dreams Descend to feel satisfying. So many of the characters gave off the angsty “I’ve got a deep dark secret that no one must ever find out” and it was alluded to so many freaking times that it got boring and ultimately I ended up not caring and rolling my eyes. I was so irritated by it and over it.
Safe to say I’m really confused as to what the hell happened in this book or what is supposed to happen for the next book.
And that’s the biggest shame because, as I said earlier, I see potential. I’m probably being hyper critical because the book was hyped up a lot in the community, and when that happens and a book falls from grace for me, that means it falls hard.
The writing sure has its moments though. There are paragraphs and sections that are exactly what the book promises: moody, dark, atmospheric, magical and at times darn sexy. But they are few and far between.
Some of the characters have promise if they are developed in book 2, as does the plot. I genuinely hope that happens because I really did wanna like this. I tried really hard. I want better for the sequel. I wanna continue the series, I wanna read the next book because what little premise I got I enjoyed!
I think if you can read Where Dreams Descend with rose-tinted glasses you’ll have a great time with it, and it’ll fill that hole that Caraval and The Night Circus left for a lot of readers. But unfortunately for me I had a really difficult time. Oh well, here’s to holding out hope for book 2!
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