Legend has it if you die in your dreams, you die in real life. Fifteen-year-old Ashling Campbell knows that’s not true because when she closes her eyes each night, she doesn’t dream about public nudity or Prom dates. Instead, she’s catapulted to the front row of her future self’s execution – fifteen years from now – where monsters have taken control of her hometown and she, or rather, her 30-year-old counterpart, is their public enemy number one.
For three months and counting, it’s been the same dream… until an encounter with an antique dreamcatcher. Ash falls asleep to discover she’s no longer a mere spectator in these dreams – now she’s astral-projecting into the body of her future self. Each night, she goes on the run with a ragtag group of rebels – who have no idea she’s really a high school sophomore and not their noble warrior. She has to make it through each night so that she can wake up and find a way to change the future. For every action she does in the present day, she falls asleep to discover it had an equal impact fifteen years later. It’s up to her to manage her two worlds and make sure she’s still got a place in both.
Think of paranormal fantasy and you probably think of vampires, of werewolves, of angels and demons or maybe even faeries. Fantasy authors just don’t deviate from those tropes. While understandable, it’s always refreshing when authors take a step away from the familiar creatures. So right off the bat, Estes deserves credit for tapping a pretty severely underused mythology by tapping into the myths of the Lakota and the Jumlin. Well technically a kind of vampire demon, it’s still a creature so distinct of the Eastern European vampire that it’s really not the same thing at all, so well done there. It’s new to me (and I imagine it’d be new to most readers of this book) and I found it rather fascinating, and I hope that in future books that Estes continues to explore this mythology.
But mythology alone isn’t enough to sell a book.
Luckily, we have a rather likable protagonist in the way of Ash. She’s likable, she’s determined and she feels like a real girl without falling into the “all teenagers are awful” tropes. She sees her dreams, knows that she can’t let it come to pass and does what she can to try and fix it, while learning that some things just can’t be fixed. She’s helped out by her friend Tate. At first, he’s a genuinely good friend: he not only helps provide her with the mythology she needs to get a bead on things and he doesn’t completely dismiss her when she tells him what’s going on and like many a teenage boy, he becomes smitten for Ash’s not-really-adopted sister Nadette, who is every bit the awful teenager cliche that society is all too apt to ascribe to all teenagers: shallow, mean, self-absorbed, the kind of girl that you wonder how Tate could fall for her, but then you remember hormones and all makes sense.
The heart of the book is much as you’d expect: Ash trying to figure out what the heck is going on and goes back and forth between her dreams and reality, tweaking the dream each time to change another event. While interesting, it’s where the book loses me some. The mechanism by which Ash discovered the concept of lucid dreaming felt a wee bit like a plot device (and one that was predictable at that) and later on she’s jumping so quickly between the present and the past that it almost gets a bit dizzying.
Still, it’s refreshing to read about creatures other that your standard monsters and for the most part the handling of the possible futures is rather deft. It’s a nice change of pace and leaves you curious about where she might go with it. If you want something fresh, this would be a good place to start.
Verdict: A strong borrow it.