"Dreaming means waking up as your worst fear," you say?
Let's also add in some "eh, might die, but I can't afford to be anywhere else" vibes and I'm sold. This was such a fascinating concept and a really fun read.
Man, I really wish I'd gotten around to my advanced reading copy sooner so that I could have been an AGGRESSIVE promoter of it during its release week. I have fallen down on my duties!!
This book was such a good ride, y'all, and I am definitely paying attention now.
Ness Near lives in the City of Nightmares. No wait, Gotham. No wait, it's not either of those places—it's Newham. Either way, the vibes are the same: this is not the kind of city you'd like to live in.
Rampant crime and violent death. In-your-face political corruption. Unbelievable living conditions. And none of those things are the worst selling point--it's the Nightmares that you have to worry about.
What if every time you dreamed, you rolled the dice on the chance that you woke up as your worst Nightmare?
Ness is very aware of the tragedy and horror of that gamble. When she was younger, one night her older sister, Ruby, went to sleep and woke up as a giant, man-eating spider. Ruby was gone, and the spider in her place killed their father and others in town.
Let's just say that Ness never quite got over that.
Now a young adult living at the Friends of the Restless Soul compound—a charity (cough cough, cult) organization that provides "pay as you can afford" therapies to Nightmare trauma survivors—Ness is eeking away a frightened and barely there existence in the country's most dangerous city and surrounded on a daily basis by her worst fear: Nightmares.
And then, to make matters worse, Ness ends up embroiled in an embroiled assassination attempt beyond her wildest imaginings and finds the little ground she's scraped and bled to assemble ripped out from under her.
Oh, and then there's the Nightmare that ends up in (and on) the same boat she's in, who just might turn out to be her only friend.
Yep. Things are about to get...interesting.
(And that's saying something for the city of Newham, where the current Mayor keeps a Nightmared-pterodactyl on a leash to eat her political enemies.)
Okay, so if you've made it this far into the review and are somehow NOT already interested, let me just say that City of Nightmares was such a fun and self-aware ride.
As a reader who burned herself out on traditional young adult books, it's getting rarer and rarer these days for me to find a hook that invites me into a story. I'd like something new—that I haven't read before—and I'd like it to be done well and with the right amount of believable character traits. I'm ruthless with my reading tastes when I want to be, and for the past year the genre under the chopping block has been young adult fantasy.
But not this one. This one, I devoured.
Ness is the right kind of character for this story. In a world where fear itself is the commodity of choice, Ness is true scaredy cat. She's a self-professed coward, one who can barely handle the benign Nightmares that walk the streets harmlessly, not to mention the actually dangerous ones. Ness jumps from safe zone to safe zone under the constant internalized threat of Death by Nightmare. She's a right mess, alright?
And that really worked for me. While we all like to pretend we're relatable to the hero of a fantasy story, we're really...not. How many of us would sign up for that dangerous quest, or that big bad boss showdown, or that heist against the odds? I'm self-aware enough to admit that given the actual facts, I'd be like Ness. "How can I survive this experience and avoid personal damage to the best of my abilities, please?" Sign me up for that self-preservation track. Yup.
So I thought that thread of character realism in this caricaturized, fictional version of our real world's dark side was awesome. It lent a dose of grounding to the sensational world building. And it made for a very good reading experience.
Did the pacing lag a bit? Yeah. Did we also kind of rush things there at the end of this first book? Maybe. But honestly, I had such a good time that I don't really care about that.
Book two, I'm waiting for you!
Thank you to the publisher for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
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Amy Imogene Reads
Just someone looking for her own door into Wonderland.