Where Dreams Descend

Where Dreams Descend was written by Janella Angeles and first published in 2020. It is a fantasy novel that focuses on a powerful female magician who is desperate to be noticed in a world where only men are taken seriously. The novel forms the first part of a planned duology and its sequel, When Night Breaks, is expected to be released next year.

Kallia is the headline act of Hellfire House, yet yearns for more. Despite the fact that her powers are second to none, female magicians have no choice but to use their magic domestically or on seedy nightclub stages. When she hears about the Spectaculore – a contest taking place in the nearby city of Glorian – she is determined to take part to prove herself. Yet Jack, the possessive master of Hellfire House, is reluctant to let her go.

Escaping from the club, Kallia runs away to Glorian and finds a willing assistant in a charismatic thief called Aaros. Together they shock high-society by entering into the Spectaculore as the only female participant, competing against a host of upper-class and deeply prejudiced young men. Her dazzling act also catches the eye of Daron Demarco, a young judge who hides a terrifying secret of his own.

Yet, as Kallia rapidly becomes a crowd favourite, it soon becomes clear that all is not right in Glorian. Someone, or something, is manipulating the contest from behind the scenes. As contestants begin to disappear and sinister notes are discovered, Kallia starts to realises that someone does not want the Spectacular to go ahead. Will she be able to uncover who is responsible and become the champion, or will the saboteur finally claim someone’s life?

Although I actually finished reading Where Dreams Descend a couple of weeks ago, it has taken me a long time to really form an opinion on it. The June OwlCrate described this story as being a reimagining of both The Phantom of the Opera and Moulin Rouge which sounded like a great concept. Unfortunately, my feelings towards the novel are very mixed. At least it was better than RoseBlood – the last reimagining of Phantom that I read…

Let’s begin by looking at the positives. The absolute best thing about Where Dreams Descend was its world-building. The dual inspirations of Angeles’s world really came across well within this story. The feel of the Spectaculore is a fantastical take on Moulin Rouge, brimming with magic and bringing to life the colourful world of stage performance. The touch of The Phantom of the Opera was more felt in the plot, with Jack’s preference for communicating through mirrors and tendency towards sabotage when things don’t go his way. While these two musicals are quite different, they actually complimented each other beautifully, forming a story that felt incredibly unique in its own right.

Off-stage, however, the world-building did not hold up anywhere near as well. While Angeles spends a lot of time lavishly describing Kallia’s act, other details tend to fade to the background. It is exposited to the reader that Glorian has had a somewhat tumultuous past but we learn nothing of this. We barely see anything of the city beyond Kallia’s hotel room and the venue of the contest. We learn nothing of Jack’s even shadier “master”, as this is a plot point dropped at the beginning of the novel that is never truly picked up again. We don’t even really learn what the rules of the Spectaculore are. What will Kallia gain if she wins, beyond bragging rights? I apologised if I missed this, but I don’t believe that it was ever specified in the novel.

Due to this, I found it really difficult to get invested in the plot of Where Dreams Descend. After a gripping opening escape from Hellfire House, the story rapidly loses its steam once Kallia arrives in Glorian. From this point on, the novel became overly focused on the Spectaculore, detailing Kallia’s performance in the first few heats with a minimal bit of interaction with Daron and Jack between each. This pacing just felt too brisk, allowing no time for Kallia to engage with her rivals or explore the building mystery. Even when minor characters begin to disappear and threatening notes are discovered, the show just goes on and the mounting threat is ignored until the climax.

Even when the plot starts to pick up its pace in its final chapters, I did not find the sting in its tale to be especially satisfying. While I won’t spoil the ending for you here, I will just say that Angeles did not do enough to set up the eleventh-hour character reveals and therefore these twists just seemed to leap out of left field. Where Dreams Descend also broke off on a rather abrupt cliff-hanger, leaving Kallia’s ultimate fate hanging for the sequel.

In terms of characterisation, I felt that Where Dreams Descend had a bit of room for improvement. While I was certainly rooting for Kallia at first, it rapidly became obvious that she was completely over-powered and so she had little room for development as the story progressed. It never seemed to be in any doubt that she would win the Spectaculore as no other magician could compete with her mastery of flame and illusion. While a few of the other competitors were name-dropped, they only really existed to make the occasional chauvinistic comment. We learned nothing of their characters or unique aspects. Even when unseen forces began to pick them off, I found it difficult to care about them.

While I did find myself liking the supporting cast more than Kallia, they still were not without their problems. Daron has a stronger backstory and received a lot more development than Kallia. While the climax of the novel did abruptly reveal something that made my liking of him waiver, I did enjoy the way that his attraction to Kallia realistically developed as the story progressed. I also liked Kallia’s stage assistant, Aaros, but felt that he really did not get enough to do in this story.

Jack, on the other hand, was deeply problematic. I really do not understand what motivated Jack or why he continued to keep Kallia captive in Hellfire House following the previous master’s death. I’m not even sure where his animosity towards Glorian comes from, or why he insists that he and Kallia are so different from the people who live there. While I do expect that this will be explained more thoroughly in the sequel, it just made him feel like a very shallow villain this time around. Even the early hints that he was more than human never truly built to anything.

I think that probably covers everything. While the concept of Where Dreams Descend showed promise, the issues with its pacing, characters and world-building meant that it was not a novel that I would really recommend. Hopefully the sequel will be able to flesh these out a little better.

Where Dreams Descend can be purchased as a Hardback, eBook and Audio Book from Amazon.co.uk

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