Book Reviews · Fantasy · Teen

Book Review: The Dream and the Muse by Jake Burnett

A cosmic adventure about the boundless power of a young woman’s potential.

When Madarena first meets the old rogue Apophax, she assumes she’s dreaming. After all, he wears a coat made of hedgehog quills, changes size at will, and treats the laws of physics as merely suggested guidelines. Very quickly, she learns she’s stepped into a world where dreams and reality intersect. Dangerously. Now, she’s an accomplice in the wily thief’s master plan to rescue a Muse from one of the most powerful beings in existence. The unlikely duo schemes their way from a town made of moonbeams to the fog-shrouded land of the dead. They fence with nightmares and bargain with witches amid the asteroid remains of a shattered planet. Along the way, Madarena learns that potential is more than a word. Rescuing the Muse—and Madarena’s own survival—depend on harnessing all the women she can be.

Thank you to NetGalley and South Window Press for the eARC in exchange for an honest review.

The Dream and the Muse is definitely an interesting book; I went into it without much expectation, as the blurb doesn’t explain much in terms of the kind of world or characters I would be reading about. All I knew was that the cover was stunning. It starts with Madarena at home in bed, and when she can’t sleep she decides to read her new dictionary, which she received for her birthday despite her parents wanting her to have new clothes, and start being a little more normal. This is clearly a ‘not like other girls’ type of character, which did make me sigh deeply, but she is quite quirky, and who hasn’t gone through the dictionary to learn new and obscure words? When the story starts she is in the middle of the ‘IM’ words, and so a lot of the book has her using them to test them out. This was something I really enjoyed about the story. She also decides to create a bridge of pillows across her floor to reach her slippers without getting her feet cold, which does create the image of a creative and dramatic young woman. However, we don’t really get much other information about her, both at the start or throughout the story. The persona of a plucky girl who doesn’t fit in and longs for adventure has been done many times, and for this to stand out I felt that I needed to know more about Madarena and her backstory.

‘You have broken the laws of Triskadeka Fair. Prepare to climb the Lichgate Stair. Judgement has not been passed. Judgment will be fast and just. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.’

The plot proper begins when Madarena hears noises coming from the garden, and upon investigating finds a small man stuck in a bush. She rescues him, and as a reward Apophax pulls a trick on her, making her appear as himself so that she will get arrested by a stone Anubis guard that has been chasing him. This is the point at which things simply begin to happen, one after another, and they don’t really stop or have a lot of time in between them for the characters or the reader to take a breather. There also isn’t always a lot of correlation between events, meaning that a lot of the book is plot driven and not character driven. Things happen because they need to advance the story and the characters go along with it. It feels very much as if the author laid out the story that he wanted, and then had to make his characters follow that structure, instead of the characters’ actions and decisions shaping the events. In some ways this makes sense for the story, because Apophax has a whole plan blueprint that he is following to carry out his “heist” (it isn’t much of a heist, sadly), but I feel that the story might have benefitted from the characters going off-script sometimes. I also would have loved for them to dwell more on the Muse, the wonderful woman on the cover who the characters are trying to get back. She’s the whole reason for the story and the heist in the first place, but there is very little mention of her.

The plot-point-to-plot-point and almost non-sensical bickering between Madarena and Apophax does give it a very whimsical feeling, and I was reminded in some ways of Alice in Wonderland and in some ways of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but it wasn’t always executed well. I think the story has incredible potential, it just needs some polishing and a lot more detail written into it – there were times when I though I’d skipped a page or a key sentence because what I was reading didn’t make sense, but when I went back I hadn’t missed anything, it simply hadn’t been expanded on enough. In a fantasy book that takes place mostly in another world, there needs to be a little more world building and reader-friendly exposition. The writing itself is very good, so I think if there were more of this, and more character development and background information, I would have enjoyed it a lot more.

This is technically a YA, and perhaps someone younger and less picky than me will enjoy it a lot more, but I still feel like it needs a little extra work to make it special.

Book Info

Published: 27th April 2021 by South Window Press
Genre: fantasy, portal fantasy, YA
Pages: 300
Series: none
Narration style: third person past tense
Format read: eARC
Copy owned: no

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