Expected Publication: October 6th, 2015 by Roaring Book Press
*I received a free copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinions.
A high-concept, fantastical espionage novel set in a world where dreams are the ultimate form of political intelligence.
Livia is a dreamstrider. She can inhabit a subject's body while they are sleeping and, for a short time, move around in their skin. She uses her talent to work as a spy for the Barstadt Empire. But her partner, Brandt, has lately become distant, and when Marez comes to join their team from a neighborhing kingdom, he offers Livia the option of a life she had never dared to imagine. Livia knows of no other dreamstriders who have survived the pull of Nightmare. So only she understands the stakes when a plot against the Empire emerges that threatens to consume both the dreaming world and the waking one with misery and rage.
A richly conceived world full of political intrigue and fantastical dream sequences, at its heart Dreamstrider is about a girl who is struggling to live up to the potential before her.
The first thing I need to say about Dreamstrider: confusing. Confusing, confusing, confusing. Confusing from page one. I'm finished with the book and I still don't fully understand the different kingdoms and how the Dreamworld works and how Livia does what she does or how the Barstadt society works. Livia came from a life in the Tunnels, but I don't know what that life was like or how people live their lives there. I have a lot of unanswered questions. Too many. I'm getting kind of irritated as I type this because I DON'T KNOW IF I UNDERSTAND ANYTHING AT ALL.
But. BUT. Despite the confusion, despite the details I think were left out, I enjoyed Dreamstrider. The highlight was the main character. Livia has an ability no one else has - but she's not a Special Snowflake who conveniently runs perfect missions every time, tricks and fools everyone into giving her whatever information she needs. You're not going to see her in an action sequence in the style of Black Widow. She's a spy, sure. But she's clumsy. And not in an "oh oops I tripped look how cute I am!" Clumsy in a way that can put people in danger on missions. She doesn't have the sharp eye that others working for the Ministry have, can't talk her way out of a situation. She's only there because she's the only person with the ability to dreamstride. She is constantly surrounded by people who are forced to rely on her, people who don't really believe in her. She's a spy who definitely doesn't know how to be a spy in any conventional sense, and I loved it.
I think some people might end up annoyed by all of Livia's insecurities and pining, but I think it added character, made her feel more real, gave her depth. Take your pick. I actually really loved it.
And I did love the concept of dreamstriding. Livia can enter someone else's body while they sleep, impersonate them, move in their body, dip into their memories. But if she goes too far, she risks waking them up when they can take back control - and throw her unconscious into a place it might never come back from. I'm just really fuzzy on some of the details of how she holds the inhabitant back - there were bits about lizards and foxes and not making them angry and I DON'T KNOW. I JUST DON'T KNOW.
I think the world-building could have used some work, too. I never really felt like I got a clear picture of what Barstadt looked like, how its economy worked, what the people did. All we see is their devotion to the Dreamer - their version of God - and just tiny glimpses of the inequalities. Livia's best friend, Brandt, is an upper class man who's eventually going to have to leave the Ministry - and Livia - to be a Real Man with his family. Or something. Basically I'm just going to say "I don't know" again. And the surrounding kingdoms/empires/cities? We find out very little about them. BUT. But. I really enjoyed what we did get to see. It sounds like a really cool world.
As for the overall plot, I can't say there was anything particularly astounding to me. There were definitely quite a few weak points, but I keep coming back to loving the idea of dreamstriding. And I know I've sounded really negative about it all but the truth is that I enjoyed Dreamstrider. I enjoyed reading about a heroine who was so different, and despite all my confusion about the Dreamworld, it still felt very unique to me and the author did a great job of making it its own world.
And I was, of course, rooting for the romance. I'm a sucker for best friend romances, for people in totally different classes who find love. I wish that Brandt and Livia had had more intense or passionate moments together, but overall, I really liked it. (And there's no love triangle. Not really. Promise.)
tl;dr: Personally, I definitely suffered from confusion. I wish there had been a lot more detail concerning the aspects of dreaming and the entire world. But Livia was one of my absolute favorite characters to read about. Lindsay Smith did something really special with her. 3.5 stars.