Dan Frey’s latest novel, Dreambound, puts a fantastical spin on solving a mystery that will keep you hooked until the final page is turned.
Full disclosure…I normally have a very hard time getting into contemporary/urban fantasy books. I’m sure it’s completely a mindset thing, but when I dive into a fantasy story, I want to be completely whisked away; new worlds, strange creatures, the works. Dan Frey’s newest novel, Dreambound, however, manages to strike an impressive balance by incorporating those fantastical setting elements into a mystery set within our real world (specifically Los Angeles).
On the surface, the plot is relatively straightforward. Following the mysterious disappearance of his 12 year old daughter, Byron Kidd sets out to discover what happened. Using the investigative journalism skills that made a (pen) name for himself—and a living for his family—Byron uncovers a strange connection to a series of super popular fantasy novels and missing children all over the world.
With his “just the facts” approach to reporting, Byron heads to Los Angeles where he’s forced to confront the idea the fantasy world he scoffs at…may just be real. As he works alongside an unlikely companion, Byron delves into the magical world hidden in Los Angeles. What he learns reveals a scheme that goes well beyond his missing child. Caught between two worlds and forces beyond his control, Byron must set aside his own doubts in order to save his daughter and the world.
That’s pretty much the basics of the story and I don’t want to get into it much more to avoid spoilers. As I said, on the surface it seems pretty direct, but the novel is well aware of the tropes it’s using (even poking fun at them here and there), while twisting them to give us something new.
Possibly the biggest factor in making this story work, is the way in which it’s structured. Rather than a typical narrative, Dreambound is presented as Byron’s investigation journal. As such, the story is being told through a series of interviews he conducts, notes/observations on his own journey, and even excerpts from novel/news reports.
Personally speaking, I love this style of storytelling. It’s an easy one to get wrong, but when handled correctly, makes for an incredible experience. Dan Frey handles it very, very well.
The result is that you distinctly feel like you’re a part of the action unfolding, rather than merely watching it happen. We get to see the mystery unfold at the exact same time as the characters do, even to the point of being able to put together certain clues and stuff ourselves ahead of any reveals. When surprises happen, they feel all the more shocking.
More importantly, the tight perspective means we’re pulled into Byron’s emotional state of mind. We see his raw thoughts scribbled down on the paper we’re reading (to the point of seeing some notations marked out) and can feel every step of his journey as he inches closer and closer to the truth.
This storytelling approach does mean some of the “action” pieces come off a little more muted. Don’t get me wrong here, there is plenty of excitement and thrills (especially in the final act) that kept the tension high. Since we’re reading things “in character,” however, we don’t get the omnipotent viewpoint of the action we normally would. This means some set pieces skim over certain bits or feel a bit rushed in the process.
That said, the emotional connection the develops as we follow Byron and his quest adds a lot of oomph to those scenes. As his investigation continues, we see how he grows from a distant father who looks down upon fictional stories, to a man willing to take leaps of faith in order to save his daughter.
It was genuinely heartening to see Byron’s evolution as he starts off as…well, kind of a dick. He’s not entirely likeable, even though I instantly sympathized with his plight. Through reading his investigation, however, we get to see a different side of the man and what he’s capable of. Throw in some other characters that challenge his perspective, while providing balance to his approach and by the time you turn the last page, you’ll feel like he’s an old friend.
This takes the action sequences from entertaining and mostly ‘okay,’ to the point I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough to see what happened next.
Though it comes in at nearly 400 pages, Dreambound is a breeze to read. Between the writing style used and how these elements are edited together, it sets a blistering pace that feels like you get a lot read in a short amount of time. It’s not an easy one to put down.
In many ways, Dreambound serves as a love-letter to storytelling in general. It’s central themes about the power of stories in our culture and how they feed us (both good and bad), is hammered home in some beautiful ways. I came away not just having enjoyed the story being told, but appreciating the importance of all stories in a deeper way.