Dreaming Death by J. Kathleen Cheney
Roc: February 2, 2016
Genre: Fantasy; Mystery
Source: Free from publisher
The last joint review we shared here ended up being a “duel” review. With City of Light, Jaclyn and I couldn’t have been further apart in our reactions to the book. This was absolutely not the case with Dreaming Death. In fact, we both want to go back to the world that Cheney has created.
Shironne Anjir’s status as a sensitive is both a gift and a curse. Her augmented senses allow her to discover and feel things others can’t, but her talents come with a price: a constant assault of emotions and sensations has left her blind. Determined to use her abilities as best she can, Shironne works tirelessly as an investigator for the Larossan army.
A member of the royal family’s guard, Mikael Lee also possesses an overwhelming power—he dreams of the deaths of others, sometimes in vivid, shocking detail, and sometimes in cryptic fragments and half-remembered images.
But then a killer brings a reign of terror to the city, snuffing out his victims with an arcane and deadly blood magic. Only Shironne can sense and interpret Mikael’s dim, dark dreams of the murders. And what they find together will lead them into a nightmare…
I’d go there again!
In Dreaming Death, young Shironne lives her life in darkness. After going blind as a child, she has experienced the world primarily through touch. She’s a rare touch-sensitive. A little bit like being psychic, it’s also a little bit like being telepathic. She can sense the components of objects (including how dirty they are!) and the emotions of the people she touches.
For the past several years, she has been working covertly with the army police to solve crimes. Not only do her talents make her uniquely able to discover killers, she is tied to a dreamer: a man who dreams the deaths of others as they happen. Mikael, the dreamer, does not remember his dreams – but Shironne does.
Mikael is a member of the Lee Family. After the invasion of their country, six native families were contracted to protect the invaders, who now make up the country’s ruling class. As a dreamer, Mikael has been sent to live in the king’s palace, where his aunt and sponsor, an infirmarian, can help him. The biggest problem: The Six Families, essentially bodyguards, are sensitives: they can feel the emotions of others. Mikael does not just dream, he broadcasts – sending images and feelings of death to those around him, disturbing their rest and handing out headaches.
Up until now, Mikael and Shironne have been kept apart by their mentors and families, though it would spoil the story for me to say why. Their latest case, a ritual killer that uses blood magic to kill police and law enforcement officers, makes it imperative that they begin to work together. Also, Mikael’s life is increasingly placed in danger with every dream he dreams, making their partnership even more necessary.
Mikael is a great hero. A misfit, and disliked by most of the people who would be his friends and family because of his dreams, he is caught between yearning for the companionship he grew up with and trying to protect the people around him.
Shironne’s narrative is brilliantly done. Since she cannot see, her world cannot be described the same way. The world around her is described in terms of movement, sound, and feel. In a culture where women have few freedoms and sensitives are sent to religious orders, she is determined to keep her independence and help others.
I wish that Shironne had not been so emphatically not-quite-an-adult. At seventeen, she is considered an adult by her own people, but not by the ruling class or the Families. Her child status is emphasized and repeated to keep Shironne and Mikael apart at first, and to develop the tension later on.
The tension comes from their connection: in a bizarre circumstance, they became connected in an approximation of an ancient ceremony, which brings them together as dreamer/broadcaster and memory-keeper/receiver. I am interested to see how their bonding evolves in the next books in the series. Too often, the complex issues of independence, compromise, desire, willingness, and connection are ignored in stories of bonded pairs. So far, it seems that this series will explore those issues in more depth, especially given the emphasis on Shironne’s youth and Mikael’s position of influence. But I really do hope she grows up.
As a combination of murder mystery, young adult romance, and fantasy, this book might be enjoyed by readers of any one of the genres. Recommended for fans of them all, although the young adult may be the overpowering genre in the mix.
I’d go there again!
Like Stacey, I enjoyed Dreaming Death. Similar to Cheney’s previous trilogy The Golden City, Dreaming Death also combines a rich fantasy world with mystery. While there is a great deal of detail about the world that Cheney puts her readers into, at heart, Dreaming Death is a mystery and I like that. Anytime an author wants to defy the bounds of genre categorization I’m game. Unlike more traditional mysteries, this one is solved using unique measures, like two people with particular abilities that just so happen to feed off the other, making them quite the duo. Interestingly, Shironne and Mikael have not even met before they start their crime solving.
There is a lot of fear and apprehension surrounding Shironne and Mikael’s relationship even before they met. Shironne shares Mikael’s dreams and because of that she can help solve the murders he dreams about. However, the downside of this bond is that Mikael can influence Shironne and make her feel things that she just might not want to feel. Because of the nature of their bond, Shironne and Mikael have been kept separate but remain aware of each other. And therein lies my only frustration with Dreaming Death: how long it took for Shironne and Mikael to actually connect in person. The first half of the book keeps Shironne and Mikael separated. Readers get both of their points of view, but it’s not until much later that they actually interact. For me, it was when Shironne and Mikael finally met each other that the pace started to pick up. I had liked the story up to that point, but it was when these two met and started to explore their bond that I became truly hooked.
Separation of the main characters aside, the concept of individuals being bound to each other was really interesting with rather serious ramifications to individuality. Mikael is used to subduing his emotions since it discomforts the other sensitives that physically surround him, so in some ways he is more prepared for his bond to Shironne. Mikael is afraid of unduly influencing Shironne and forcing her to become someone that she’s not. Shironne, partly due to her blindness and her gender, has been shaped into a specific kind of person already, and again, Mikael recognizes this when he asks “Who are you when you’re alone?” (p. 233). Shironne does need to create her own sense of self as she has been very much shaped by her role in her family. Shironne’s relationship to her family isn’t a negative thing, but it does not allow Shironne to fully explore her abilities. By the end of the book, I think Shironne has come a long way to claiming her independence and I’m curious to see how the author explores Shironne’s personality considering the seemingly vulnerable position that she’s in. I think this concept will be much further explored in future books as Shironne and Mikael work with each other on a regular basis.
If you enjoy mystery, detailed world building and great characters, Dreaming Death will be a fun read. Shironne and Mikael are more subdued than you would expect of main characters, but I think it serves a purpose in the author’s questioning of fate and individuality. I can’t wait to see where this goes next!
The murder mystery in this story reminded me of A Murder of Mages, wherein two unlikely partners work together to solve a crime in a medieval-esque inner city. Read my review by clicking the image link below.
Cast in Shadow, while set in a very different universe, has a similar atmosphere. The main characters form part of the police corps, and the plot revolves around their search for a serial murderer.
If you were intrigued with the concept of two people being bound as Shironne and Mikael were, Moria J. Moore’s Hero series is a must. Lee and Taro are a Shield and a Source, bonded to each other and with their combined abilities they are able to combat natural disasters. This is a lighthearted series, but a real treasure. Start with book one, Resenting the Hero.
If you enjoyed the world building and tone of Dreaming Death, you are likely to love V.E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic. The character of Kell reminded me very much of Mikael. See my full glowing review here.