Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Darkening Dream

Andy Gavin's debut novel, The Darkening Dream, takes place in Salem, Massachusetts in 1913.  If you think this is a book about puritans and witches, however, think again.  It is so much more, although the location's infamous history does figure into the story in interesting ways.

Sarah Engelmann, the teenage daughter of a rabbi, begins to have unsettling dreams and also hears the sound of a horn being blown, even when awake.  These strange dreams take on new and even more unsettling meaning when Sarah and her friends - twins Anne and Sam Williams, and their new Greek classmate, Alex - discover the body of a young man, whose corpse bears what appear to be what Sarah discerns as evidence of some kind of ritual.  She turns out to be correct, when they see the dead boy again after his funeral.  Alex reveals himself to have quite a knowledge of the undead, and the foursome become determined to find and destroy the vampire who turned him (after dealing with him first, of course).  

The plot thickens and faith is tested as they find that they have gotten themselves involved in something much more complicated than simply the arrival of a centuries-old vampire:  he is in league with gods of the Egyptian pantheon, who want the Archangel Gabriel's trumpet, and a powerful warlock with a demon lover who has the ability to travel between celestial realms.  Deep secrets are unveiled and Sarah becomes attuned to her faith in ways she never knew possible, and with the help of her father, she uses what she's learned to help her friends in the battle they are now desperate to fight.  The stakes have become very high, and Sarah's dreams are becoming more and more disturbing.  Will they be able to stop the forces they have pitted themselves against?  Are they even ready to pay what it might cost them to win?

This book was sent to me by the author for review, and all I can say is, I am SO. GLAD. that I accepted the offer for this one.  And I am not just saying that because he is partially responsible for the extremely successful video game franchises Crash Bandicoot and Jak & Daxter.  That's right, kids!  The author is also the founder of Naughty Dog (which, on a side note, if you are the owner of a PlayStation 3, keep an eye on their upcoming game, The Last of Us, because it looks friggin' amazing. I'm really sad it's not going to be available for PC).

Anyway, back to the book!  The mix of elements in this story - Egyptian mythology, warlocks, witchcraft, vampires, Judaic mysticism - made this book unlike anything I've read before, in a very good way.  The mash-up could have easily been very forced and clunky, but Gavin does a superb job (especially for a first novel!) of weaving them all together.  And while religion is very present, it is not at all preachy, so if you aren't interested in reading religious fiction, do not write off The Darkening Dream!  If you do, I promise you are missing out.

There's a little romance for those of you who love love, and while there were some PG moments here and there (not necessarily involving the romance), I didn't find them to be tacky or too much.  I really liked our main protagonist, Sarah - she's very bright, and kind of makes me feel like a total slacker.  I am definitely more motivated to learn some more languages than I was before I read this book, haha!  I liked Anne and Sam as well, even though Anne got on my nerves just a little at some point.  I don't know why exactly, because it's not that she was in any way inherently annoying.  I think it is just that she held onto her initial denial of what was going on for longer than I felt was reasonable.  I shouldn't really fault her for that, though, since, if I were in their situation, I would probably not charge ahead like Sarah and Sam, taking everything as it is from the second it's presented.  As for Alexandros, I definitely developed a book-crush on him.  What can I say?  I have a soft spot for Mediterraneans, and all of this mysterious slayer-of-the-undead business just makes him that much more appealing.

And a note to all you vampire fans, Gavin's are pretty old school, so if the Twilight paradigm isn't your thing, this is nothing like that.  

Ultimately, this book was great.  It was action-packed and suspenseful, and there were twists all over the place.  I had a really hard time putting it down when I needed to do other things!




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