Dreams Lie Beneath by Rebecca Ross
Publisher: Quill Tree Books (Epic Reads)
Release Date: November 2, 2021
Cover Artist / Illustrator: Annie Stegg Gerard
Summary: A curse plagues the realm of Azenor—during each new moon, magic flows from the nearby mountain and brings nightmares to life. Only magicians, who serve as territory wardens, stand between people and their worst dreams. Clementine Madigan is ready to take over as the warden of her small town, but when two magicians challenge her, she is unwittingly drawn into a century-old conflict. She seeks revenge, but as she secretly gets closer to Phelan, one of the handsome young magicians, secrets begin to rise. Clementine must unite with her rival to fight the realm’s curse, which seems to be haunting her every turn.
My Rating: ★★★☆☆ 1/4
My Thoughts: Dreams Lie Beneath delivers an interesting concept within YA fantasy where nightmares come to life, a quest for vengeance fuels the story, couple that with rival magicians and a century’s-old curse, it makes for an fascinating world! The inventive setting based on dreams does pull the reader in and with an underlying romance and Clementine’s journey to reclaim her family’s position as Dream Warden. A unique YA standalone fantasy for those who feel overwhelmed by series!
I’m the kind of person who checks out way to many books at the library and a book I always noticed I’d keep checking out was this one last year. Especially trying to get back more into fantasy in 2022, I thought it was a great time to finally pick this one up! Before delving into this review I will say there’s lots of interesting ideas that Ross explores here…but the further I kept on reading I couldn’t help but examine the book with a critical eye. Early on, it became more evident this wouldn’t exactly become a new favorite.
For those who enjoyed either a Sorcery Of Thorns or Caraval, I think you would probably like this book.
Firstly, I wanted to delve into the prose. Over the years after reading a lot from a particular category of books, you can’t help but start to notice patterns. With YA fantasy for instance, I’m becoming more aware and paying much more attention to how the author craft’s their words. Ross uses an elegant kind of prose within her story that shows from the imagery and descriptions of Azenor to her hometown of Hereswith.
Told through a first-person perspective, I do think the writing built up Clem and her quest for revenge, in addition to her place in society as the apprentice Dream Warden, especially why it’s so important. There was definitely a particular magical atmosphere that was built throughout the novel. However, for me as I examined the writing for much of the “elegant” or “lyrical” text, the prose didn’t really stand out to me. It felt to be a rather common style I’ve seen among YA fantasy in recent years, which left me drifting through the story almost with the writing at a distance. It felt rather redundant with the descriptions and superfluous at times.
Clementine and her father record the nightmares of their town in order to prepare for the nightmares that come to life every new moon. However, when rival magicians Phelan and Lennox Vesper challenge the family to usurp their title, the Madigan’s have no choice but to relocate. Clem, her father and caretaker Imonie leave to stay with Clem’s mother in another town. But Clem is determined to get her vengeance and reclaim her family’s title, so she takes on a disguise to ruin the Vesper’s from within.
The pace does take on a bit of a slower momentum as Clem (taking on the name Anna) seeks out Phelan and trains with him all while to uncover his family’s secrets, improve her own skills and uncover truths behind the realm of Azenor’s curse.
For a standalone I appreciated how Ross introduced many pieces to her world from the different kinds of magic ( Aveterna, Metamara, & Deviah), the curse and how it ties into the idea of dreams and nightmares. There’s also a magical Book of Nightmares, where the wardens record people’s dreams, even a magical card game, once you get further along they help to explain the world a bit better.
Going in, I also knew there was probably going to be a romance, though I never knew exactly how it would develop and was made more interesting given Clem’s circumstance. However, this was also another problem I had with the novel because the world itself left me with many lingering questions and unexplored details that are never explored within the pages, yet the budding romance between Phelan and Clem frankly took over the whole plot, in my opinion.
The novel did explore familial dynamics especially when it came to Clem, her father & mother (who from context was probably divorced / separated from Clem’s father), even the Vesper family. The novel also does make the lore of the world more central as Phelan and Clem battle more nightmares on a new moon. This leads to a lot more intrigue, secrecy and twists as the magic becomes much more clear.
Clem’s ambition was a big part of her character and I enjoyed how Ross explored that, especially given the family job of Dream Warden it made for an interesting arc to explore knowing that she never really grew up with other options as to her future work.
As the intrigue and deeper machinations of wardens become unveiled, I will admit the latter fourth of the novel becomes overtaken with slogged pacing, obvious motives and rather flat antagonists. What I found the most interesting was seeing how this power that dream wardens had would impact the townsfolk and setting as a whole & also seeing the result of this on the overall world, which sadly wasn’t explored in the aftermath.
Upon concluding Dreams Lie Beneath, to me the story became much too centered on the grand conflict that the world at large wasn’t given enough page-time or exploration, which was one of the fascinating elements of the novel. Now, I will say if you enjoyed the Fates aspect in the Caraval books or Sorcery Of Thorns, you really would enjoy this book! I do plan to read more of Ross’s work in the future because the interesting concepts she delivers (based on this first novel I’ve read) made her fantasy world so intriguing.
Dreams Lie Beneath is a character-driven fantasy with interesting lore that despite some of its flaws, is an enjoyable standalone perfect for fantasy romance lovers!