I’ve long been a fan of C.S. Friedman’s writing; regardless of genre flavor (Fantasy in The Coldfire Trilogy and The Magister Trilogy or Space Opera in This Alien Shore, In Conquest Born), her novels have always had a balance of character and plot and worked very well for me. Ms. Friedman steps a bit farther afield than previous jaunts through the genre with Dreamwalker, a first person young adult urban fantasy.
Jessica Drake—Jesse—is a sixteen-year old girl living in a broken home. Her father left years prior to the beginning of the novel, her mother works any and all hours to pay the bills and her younger brother Tommy is always online playing games like World of Warcraft. Fortunately, she has her art to keep her occupied; the images she conjures are inspired by her dreams. A rather suspect woman asks to buy the art, and Jesse feels uncomfortable around her. What she finds even more uncomfortable is that this woman seems to be casing her house, and practically stalking her younger brother.
As if this weren’t enough, her distant father claims that Jesse is not his daughter—that her mother had an affair. Jesse discovers after a thorough DNA test that she shares no genetic material with either parent. When Jesse does some trawling on the Internet, she realizes she isn’t the only “DNA orphan.” After meeting Rita and Devon, the three friends piece together that the strange woman is somehow connected to the DNA orphans.
Not long after, Jesse wakes to find her house on fire and her brother missing. In their search for Tommy, Jesse and her friends cross over to the parallel world, called “Virginia Prime,” home to humanoid creatures who possess much in common with elves or faerie folk.
Friedman allows the story to breathe a bit and show itself as a riff on the Changeling myth, wherein a human child is replaced with a Fae child. She doesn’t specifically call out the abductors as elves or faeries, but their description as humanoid with tinged skin and oddly shaped eyes makes the comparison logical and easy enough to deduct. In other words, Friedman trusts her readers to parse out these descriptions and come to the comparative conclusion on their own.
Friedman does many things well in this novel, and her experience as an engaging storyteller is on full display. First person narrative is a new voice for Friedman, but it works very well and helps to build a great deal of empathy for Jesse’s plight. However, Friedman does occasionally switch to a third-person omniscient point of view to show events from Tommy’s perspective and the perspective of the antagonists. On one hand, this viewpoint switch is a bit of a surprise when following the story from inside Jesse’s head. On the other, it enriches the story and the world, and provided a greater sense of the scope of events in which Jesse and her friends were involved.
Something Friedman does very well in Dreamwalker is to allow her characters to believe in what is happening to them. Granted there’s a bit of hesitation that strange things are occurring to Jesse, but Friedman doesn’t bog down the narrative with what could be considered useless doubt or false dramatic tensions. Jesse fully digests her situation rather quickly, so the plot moves forward at a great pace as she and her friends learn more about their “orphan DNA” status in their search for Tommy.
Friedman shows that her writing and storytelling abilities are strong, regardless of what type of story she’s telling. Dreamwalker has a definite resolution by novel’s end. However, the novel was (rightly) so focused on Jesse’s search and rescue of her brother that the greater implications of the parallel worlds and scope of her brother’s captors plot was only touched upon in the narrative. One hopes Friedman has more to tell about Jesse, her friends and the power of dreams and gates; while Dreamwalker was an enjoyable novel, it seems to be the introduction to a much larger story.
Dreamwalker is available February 4 from DAW.
Rob Bedford lives in NJ with his wife and dog. He reviews books and moderates forums at SFFWorld, has a blog about stuff, writes “The Completist” column for SF Signal, and is currently overseeing the Locke & Key reread here at Tor.com. If you want to read random thoughts about books, TV, his dog, beer, and hockey you can follow him on Twitter: @RobHBedford.