Book Review: “Dreamfall” by Amy Plum

Cover of the book "Dreamfall" by Amy Plum.
Cover of the book "Dreamfall" by Amy Plum.
Cover of the book “Dreamfall” by Amy Plum.

Happy October, everyone! I hope you all had a wonderful September and that you have a great October! Given that this is the month of Halloween, I thought I’d go in the horror direction and read “Dreamfall” by Amy Plum! Here’s a summary so we know what it’s about:

“Cata Cordova suffers from such debilitating insomnia that she agreed to take part in an experimental new procedure. She thought things couldn’t get any worse…but she was terribly wrong.

Soon after the experiment begins, there’s a malfunction with the lab equipment, and Cata and six other teen patients are plunged into a shared dreamworld with no memory of how they got there. Even worse, they come to the chilling realization that they are trapped in a place where their worst nightmares have come to life. Hunted by creatures from their darkest imaginations and tormented by secrets they’d rather keep buried, Cata and the others will be forced to band together to face their biggest fears. And if they can’t find a way to defeat their dreams, they will never wake up.”

Trigger warnings for this book are as follows:

There are instances of PTSD and disassociation that happen throughout the book due to two of the characters having PTSD. The book also contains mentions of anorexia, attempted suicide, domestic violence, drowning, a few chapters where there is genocide and murder involved and/or mentioned, and mentions of war-related deaths. Also, for those with a fear of clowns (especially ones that are on the murderous side), they feature heavily in the latter fifth of the book for a few chapters straight. If you’re not comfortable any of this content, I would not recommend reading this book due to all of this being rather detailed in description.

Worldbuilding development: 5 out of 5 stars

I was impressed by how a lot of the actions the characters made in this book led to helping shape the worldbuilding, and that the worldbuilding also shapes the characters in return. For instance, all the main characters have sleep issues brought on by several mental issues, such as insomnia, PTSD, etc, hence why they are trying a new electric therapy. Due to the electrical therapy, however, this impacts every main character (except Jaime, who is the premed student who is one of the several people testing the treatment on them) to go comatose and also lose their memories of the treatment in the first place. This affects everyone’s character development, as well as the plot. I would also say that BethAnn’s death ended up serving to help worldbuilding development by demonstrating that dying in dreams means death in real life, though it’s at the cost of her own character development due to her dying about a third into the book.

The reader starts out knowing as little about the new dream world as our main characters, but as they discover more of how this world works, so does the reader. With this, it’s easy to put the pieces together, and it unfolds like a giant mystery (save for the fact that it’s not a murder case and more like a ‘let’s try to recover our memories’ case). The dreamworld itself varies based on the past traumas of all the main characters, going from war to other haunting aspects, and even a messed up carnival late in the book based on the fears, dreams, and nightmares that each main character has. Not only does this create a large, complex world, but it also helps shape the characters’ development as well. And yes, given that it’s hugely based off trauma and nightmares, it’s frightening to read. Don’t read this at night if you don’t want nightmares of your own.

Character development: 4 out of 5 stars

All of the main characters have different backgrounds, which affects all of their development and how they interact with each other. Ant is autistic (something that’s brought up quite a few times by the rest of the party for various reasons in the main plot), Remi was the lone survivor of a genocide that killed his family, Catalina (Cata for short) has gone through domestic violence in her family, Fergus has narcolepsy, BethAnn lost her sister to drowning while babysitting her, and so on. Unfortunately for BethAnn, she’s the first to die in the book and therefore also doesn’t get room for development as consequence. I honestly think she died a bit too early, which makes her serve more as a plot device to the book than as an actual character.

As for the most main characters as according to point-of-view, Cata and Fergus were both fun to read overall. I liked seeing their points of view from within the dreamworld, but I felt that there were a few times, midway through the book, where it was hard to distinguish their own individual voices.

Jaime, the third character that has a point of view, was interesting to read overall. As one of the scientists overlooking the experiment and rooted in reality, he/she?/they? (the book does not discern what gender Jaime is so I’m going with they unless otherwise clarified) are hopeless to do nothing but look after the comatose teens and hope nothing bad happens to them. Jaime’s readings on their files help us give more information on the main characters, and their own reflections of their past also helps me as a reader sympathize with them, as well as help flesh them out as their own character.

Plot Development: 4 out of 5 stars

Overall, the plot is rather fast-paced, with its short chapters helping this immensely. However, it’s easy enough to keep up with, and given how the worldbuilding unfolds, it’s easy to stay at a fast pace and still understand the gist of everything going on.

The twist at the end with Sinclair’s reveal as a psychopath, however, had me a bit confused. All of the main characters suffer from mental health problems, from PTSD to depression and so on, and yet Sinclair’s twist of having psychopathy (not revealed until the last chapter) is the one thing that’s singled out as a problem for everyone else to survive being in the dreamworld, or at least that’s what is hinted for the next book in this duology (the second book is “Neverwake” by the same author).  I find this odd, given how everyone pointed out each other’s mental health issues as well as what they themselves did for self-care in several conversations throughout the book, and it’s not written in a way to be seen as problematic. As one of the main characters points out, everyone’s mental health, no matter how well or not well it is, lies on a spectrum and can vary. That’s why I find it odd that Sinclair’s psychopathy is singlehandedly pointed out as problematic for the plot. Perhaps there will be more expansion on this in the sequel other than the little bit of background given in the last chapter.

Overall, I’m rating this book 4.5 out of 5 stars!

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