Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Dreamwalker by James Oswald


"So that’s what death means, Benfro thought. It’s not about bodies lying motionless, or dragons giving up the will to live, it’s about the fire going out and there being no more stories."

Dreamwalker is a fantasy novel that chronicles the lives of three different people who share not only a birthday but also intertwining destinies. One is a power hungry princess who will stop at nothing to gain the throne going so far as to even kill family members. One is a royal son born in secret and hidden away in a remote village on the edge of the forest. Finally, one is a young dragon—the first male dragon to be born in one thousand years. Using these three characters, Oswald concocts an impressive tale of magic, suspense, and intrigue.
    Those who know me know that I’m apt to read any book dealing with dragons. Ever since I discovered Tolkien’s The Hobbit in my youth I’ve been infatuated with them. The ways in which dragons have been portrayed in both fantasy and science fiction are too numerous to count. Some are menacing and animalistic, others are cunning and intelligent, and some authors even combine these two traits in order to make both ferocious and lovable characters. Initially, I was a little disappointed by the dragons in Dreamwalker. They aren’t cunning like Smaug, nor are they incredibly magical nor large in size. However, clues throughout the story hint at a reason for the dragon’s diminished stature and the dragons themselves are interesting characters. The story begins with a prophecy and while I’m personally a little tired of prophecies in books, I found the main plot of Dreamwalker to be rather interesting. True, many aspects of the plot are not uncommon in the fantasy genre. In fact, some have become a little tired over the years. Prophecies, lost heirs to the throne, power hungry person who will stop at nothing to keep that heir from achieving the throne etc. Frankly, the basic plot of this book held no surprised for me. This may or may not be a bad thing, depending upon the reader. Some readers like to see familiar formulas reused over and over again, while others are always looking for something new to pique their interests. I would categorize myself as being somewhere in the middle of these two preferences. While I like to see familiar plots reinvigorated, I also like to read stories that take me place I’ve never gone before. So while I feel like I’ve been told stories with plots very similar to Dreamwalker, I appreciated Oswald’s attempt at making what could be a very boring repeat of dozens of Epic Fantasy novels’ plots into something a little bit more inspired. But I’m rambling.
    Specifically, I really liked the way this story was handled. I always enjoy reading both the antagonists’ and protagonists’ perspectives. This type of narrative prevents readers from growing bored with just one person’s view and it’s the type of storytelling I generally prefer. The characters of this story were fairly well written, though some of them read like stock characters (especially the antagonists). Being the first book in a series, the author still has plenty of time with which to further develop his characters past their stereotypical roles. I also found Oswald’s take on magic to be very intriguing. In fact, it was probably the most interesting aspect of this story. Like many ardent fans of the fantasy genre I’ve always been fond of magic in stories. I love to see how authors handle magic because I feel as though this—more than anything else—reveals the author’s mentality regarding the mechanisms of the world world. I have a few minor issues with the book, including a confusing editing error. One of the characters, Beulah, is supposed to come into power by her upcoming birthday. However, the book actually gives conflicting accounts regarding the age she’s turning. Sometimes it’s twenty-one while other times it’s twenty-five. I assume this error probably came from a last minute change in which the writer decided to alter the characters age but neglected to re-edit certain areas of the book. In addition to this minor yet annoying error I felt as though the story needed more exposition. The world Oswald has dreamt up is fairly complex and includes it’s own histories, legends, and famous figures. Having been reared on Tolkien I'm fairly fond of complex worlds. However, there were times during the story where I felt as if I had missed some vital piece of information only to discover upon backtracking that said information was never provided.
   None the less this was an enjoyable book. It was a tad formulaic and some of the characters seemed a little cliché but overall it’s a promising start to a series and I fully expect the next book to improve upon the first. If I had to classify this book I would say that it is a High Fantasy story which stradles the line of adult fiction and young adult fiction (though the upper edge of YA as this story does deal with some mature and delicate issues). It’s enjoyable, it’s free, it has DRAGONS—what more motivation do you need?

Rating: 3.5


  1. Thanks indeed for this very detailed and positive review. With regards to the mix-up over Beulah's coming of age - that's where self-publishing often falls down. A good proof-reader would have caught the error, but being writer, editor and proof-reader all wrapped up in one, I missed it. Sorry. I will correct it for a new edition.

    There was a bit where I'd called Errol Benfro too. The perils of having multiple points of view.

    1. You're very welcome. For a self-published piece this story had surprisingly few errors. You should be proud of your accomplishment regardless of the occasional glitch. Compared to the many other self-published books I've read yours was very well handled. I look forward to reading the next book in the series.

  2. Give us a shout - osney at devildog dot co dot uk if you would like a review copy. Gratis and no obligation, of course.