The Dream TravellersAuthor:
Simon & Schuster, 2004Notes:
Borrowed from the library // 330 pages // Fantasy // Paperback // Read 14/10/11-22/1/12When a mysterious lodger named Dolf Hunter comes to live with 12-year-old Sam Kenyon and his family, it's the beginning of a seriously spooky adventure. For Sam has seen the man before - in a nightmare. He discusses the shifty new tenant's arrival with his best friends: Hannah, Dean, and Amy. Together, they decide to trail him - and learn that Dolf Hunter makes strange straw dolls that will allow them to visit each other's dreams.
At first, the children have fun visiting each other at night in their dream kingdoms; but soon, they become aware of an increasingly sinister presence. For while they're trying to stalk the mysterious lodger, someone - or something - is stalking them in their dreams... Judging A Book By Its Cover:
This is a fairly striking cover! I like the shifts in colour (from black through a sky-like spectrum to pink - I'm not sure if the colours they've chosen for the title text are right with it, but go figure), I like the dramatic silhouettes (although I genuinely did not notice the egg and the running figures at the top until I was almost at the end of the book), I like that the silhouette of the man is faded but undeniably present, and the character he's looming behind most makes a lot of sense in context. I don't like the pose they've chosen for Amy because it looks so awkward.
Is she supposed to be walking? It just looks odd in contrast to the other poses on this cover.The Review:
I have actually been meaning to read this book for years
now. The author came to my school to give a talk, and described the book1
in a way that made it sound like my sort of thing in a way that I knew
her other stuff wasn't. Plus, she read out an exerpt that concluded with an image that stuck
with me. The protagonists are trying to find a way into the villain's dreams, and conclude that the only place it can be is in Hannah's dreams - where she doesn't want them to be.
Sam thought maybe she was embarrssed by her Dream Kingdom. Hannah could be a bossy girl at times, and maybe there were parts of her that she didn't want her friends to see. [...] But they had to go there anyway.
"We don't mind what your kingdom is like, Hannah."
"No," she said.
"No!" said the receptionist behind the gleaming metallic desk. "No!" struck the large clock in the lobby. "No!" whistled the wind which blew through the revolving doors.
"Why?" demanded Sam.
"Because I only ever have nightmares." [Page 107]
I liked the image of a kingdom of nightmares compared to kingdoms of happy dreams, which is probably why I remembered this book when I first started making a list of books I wanted to read. As to whether or not it was worth the wait...
I still really like the ideas behind this book - the idea of dream kingdoms intrigues me, and in fact the dreams themselves are really well described and done! They have the right level of whimsy and sheer randomness you get
in your dreams (like an ocean that tastes of sweet and sour sauce, or leaves that sounds like bells - plus the illogical conversations that come with them). I loved some of the things in the background of the dreams. The plot, once it got going, was fairly fast paced and I raced through the book in about an hour.
On the other hand, it took me the best part of three months to muster the care
to read further than page 94 of The Dream Travellers
and I think that the writing is to blame.
The writing is really simplistic and lacks authenticity - the dialogue doesn't feel right for starters, in that I can't imagine anyone actually saying
any of the things the characters say, at least in the way they say them. There's no ambiguity, in either emotions (because the characters seem able to read each others' minds), or plot (the plot and what the characters need to do next is generally handled by having an adult appear, provide exposition, then leave. Or there is the fact that Amy somehow knows and explains the villain's appearance, plan and motivation at the beginning of the book before they even know that the villain exists
, which comes up all of once.). So much of the story is told
rather than shown - people's emotions are narrated to the reader rather than shown to them, and Hannah's nightmare kingdom is described as
scary rather than actually being shown
to be scary. It gets better as the book goes on, but it still feels off to me.
("Susan," I can hear some of you saying. "This book is blatantly aimed at twelve year olds at the oldest. Why
are you complaining about that?" To which my response is "Because I finished reading Skellig
the day I started reading this, which set the bar high - it's aimed at younger children than that and manages not to talk down to them. Because Diana Wynne Jones
says you're wrong. Because being young
does not mean that your stories need to be written entirely in flat notes.")
There doesn't seem to be much struggle
either - the characters achieve their goals without meaning to, or being sure how
they achieved it, they have to work out very little of the plot themselves, and in some cases manage to solve the plot by accident.2
This just seems like an odd way to handle it.
It also seems odd to me that in a book that explicitly says that every person in the main characters' friendship group is vital and important, everyone takes a back seat to Sam. He is the Hero, and his friends seem to serve mainly to help him.
It's similar to having a destined hero (see... Pretty much every fantasy series with a destined hero, starting with Harry Potter.), except without Sam actually
having an epic destiny. He is just the villain's primary target because the villain thinks he'll be easier to get to. I don't know - I feel that the other characters don't get enough development, that most of them seem to be more stock characters than anything else. Other people's mileage may vary - I just feel that things like "And this character can see and speak to ghosts" needs to be explained with a little more than "Well, she's Chinese and sensitive."
(As an aside, I thought that having Amy's race not be described but mentioned with an off-hand "Once he had heard Hannah's mum refer to her as an 'elective mute'. Which was better than calling her [racist epithets here] which was what some of their class did." It was an interesting way to handle it - I'm not sure it was the best
way, but it's not one I've seen before.)
I want to say that the bad guys could have done with a little more depth (the villain's three helpers are introduced over half way through the book and serve mainly to cackle maniacally and metaphorically tie hostages to train tracks), but I think that having the main
villain pose as a nice man who is just trying to be friendly was interesting. I don't think it was handled particularly well (I generally find those things more convincing if the person starts off as friendly or starts pretending early on, rather than "Oh, it's half way through the book and most of my plans are working! Well, better try to be nice to lure in the good guys."), but I think it was interesting.
At the heart of it though, I think this is an interesting book that could have been handled better. It wasn't bad, and it's a short read (this book is really
short - for some reason all of the text is double-spaced.), but it's average at best.If you like... 1: I don't think it was even published at the time, which means that this title has been in my brain for at least seven years. Now I feel old.
2: I am willing to give examples for this, but I think that would involve too many spoilers.