Dan Frey’s latest novel Dreambound opens with a great hook. James Kidd’s twelve-year-old daughter Liza has disappeared. Kidd believes that her disappearance is linked to the disappearance of other children around the world and connected to a popular series of fantasy books. Kidd is also an investigative journalist but his publication will not allow him to investigate this, pointing out (correctly) that he is too close to the story. And his wife just thinks he is unable to process his grief. Despite all of this, Kidd heads across the country to Los Angeles where it is possible his daughter was last seen.
A few caveats then for readers before jumping into Dreambound. Firstly, similarly to Frey’s last book The Future is Yours, Dreambound is told in an epistolary style. The book is collection of emails, notes, interview transcripts, excerpts from various books. Frey does eventually provide some payoff for this approach, but it is one that is inherently distancing. For example, Frey has to represent Kidd’s mental state or real views as crossed-out text in his notebook. The second is the character of Kidd himself. Frey is charting what is essentially a sceptic to believer journey but the character himself is incredibly obnoxious and judgemental (and remains so even after he starts to believe) and becomes the centre of what can only be called a “dad saviour” narrative (kind of the opposite of the usual YA narrative). And the third is that idea that Los Angeles is essentially the centre of the world so that puzzles can be solved by mapping the book narrative against the geography of Los Angeles.
All of that said there is plenty of enjoy in Dreambound. Not least of which is Frey’s exploration of modern day fantasy fandom. There are fanfic writers, cosplayers, a “con” and superfans. There is a film series of the books which takes liberties with the text. And there is reclusive author who is desperately trying to finish the final book in the series which it seems the world is waiting for. All of it reads as a mash up of properties like Harry Potter and Game of Thrones.
And there is the increasingly common trope of: What if fantasy worlds were real but not as cosy as we would like them to be? – explored in other books like Lev Grossman’s The Magicians and more recently in Adrian Tchaikovsky’s And Put Away Childish Things.
Overall, in Dreambound Frey has delivered a narrative that is fast paced and interesting enough to run most readers safely over the plot holes. In doing so they have to stay with a character who takes questionable steps and seems to be doing his best to turn readers off. But as noted, Frey does pay all of this off in a final act which manages to capture some of the wonder while also still looking askance at the industry that has built up around fantasy and science fiction.