REVIEWED BY REBECCA
Sexual Content: (Fairly) Graphic
Content warnings: Abduction, Child Abuse/Psychological Torture, Scientific experimentation on humans, murder scenes
RATING: Four stars
By the end of the 21st century, the world had become a harsh place. After decades of natural and man-made catastrophes, nations fell, populations shifted, and seventy percent of the continents became uninhabitable without protective suits. Technological advancement strode forward faster than ever and it was the only thing that kept human society steady through it all. No one could have predicted the discovery of the Dream Walkers. They were people born with the ability to leave their bodies at will, unseen by the waking world. Having the potential to become ultimate spies meant the remaining government regimes wanted to study and control them. The North American government, under the leadership of General Rennet, demanded that all Dream Walkers join the military program. For any that refused to comply, they were hunted down and either brainwashed or killed.
The very first Dream Walker discovered was a five year old girl named Julia. And when the soldiers came for her at the age of twenty, she was already hidden away. A decade later found Julia living a new life under the government’s radar. As a secure tech courier in the capital city of Chicago, she does her job and the rest of her time avoids other people as much as she is able. The moment she agrees to help another fugitive Walker is when everything changes. Now the government wants them both and they’ll stop at nothing to get what they want.
I purchased this book as soon as I read that blurb. Dystopian future? Impact of climate change? Cool astral projecting dream walker types? Lesbians? Well, sign me up!
As someone who isn't especially enamoured with action scenes, my favourite part of this novel was the opening third. The descriptions of a plausible future were provocative, posing many of the classic questions that make sci-fi such a great genre, and answering those questions with a keen and discernible eye. I loved this line:
And humanity was left to harvest the fields we seeded with our own ignorance.
And then there's this:
The world was actually on the cusp of great change until one political leader tipped it all back into the dark-age. Figuratively, of course. It took just one powerful man to back out of climate initiatives, to roll back renewable energy programs, to eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency, and increase funding and subsidies to the fossil fuel industry. It was a far reaching ideological shift and the world paid for it. Being the “greatest country on Earth” meant that we led the other nations by example, poor though it was.
What's not to love? When the romance took over the book, I became a little less interested (just because it meant less attention was being paid to the futuristic world itself), but I know that's probably the part a lot of people will turn up for with this story -- I think this book is romance first and sci-fi second, despite the rich dystopian tones of the opening chapters. That's definitely not a bad thing, but I point this out because there are a handful of readers out there who prefer the situation in the reverse (a small handful, indeed, but I know we exist!).
Overall, the book is well-written and the relationships are developed quite nicely. There's a complex relationship between the individual and society, a theme I love to see explored in any book, but especially one like this with a flawed, (occasionally) morally reprehensible female lead who refuses to play by the rules set down by the Corporation. I mean, how great is this?...
He helped me find a new identity before agents came around to collect everyone with a serial number that had become more important than their name.
That one sentence says a lot, and reflects all of my favourite things in Waking the Dreamer. Power. Authority. Control. Censorship. Repression. Rebellion. Resilience. Great stuff, really!
Now for the main thing that held me back from five stars (though, to be fair, four stars is the highest rating I've given for a while! It's pretty darn good). There are a few minor editing errors ('typos') but what book doesn't have those, right? I swear, you can read a manuscript fifty times and they still slip through, so that didn't really influence the rating very much. I may be in the minority here, but I didn't particularly enjoy the final chapter. I appreciate it was a twist, and many readers may find this sudden shift of the narrative arc to be exhilarating, shocking, and therefore fascinating, but for me, it detracted from the entire story and I wished I'd stopped reading at the end of the second-last chapter because that was a comfortable place to end. A place that didn't leave me confused enough to have to re-read passages and try to work out what had just happened. I love complexity in stories, and it may be the lack of sleep talking (thanks to my toddler who seems to have regressed to a screaming newborn recently), but I was more lost than anything.
Final chapter aside (and hey, you might LOVE the way it ends, my friends), this is an engaging book with much to say, though sometimes the love story overshadows the political and social guts of the tale. WAKING THE DREAMER is perfect for someone after balance between what might be considered traditional "lesfic", with the romantic and sexual elements, and the gritty, meaningful exploration of society that only comes with speculative fiction.