ARC Review: Dreaming Death by J. Kathleen Cheney

ARC Review: Dreaming Death by J. Kathleen Cheney
Dreaming Death
Palace of Dreams #1
by J. Kathleen Cheney

Genres: Fantasy, Mystery, Romance
Publication date: 02 February 2016
by Roc

Format: eARC

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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...

As you might know, I’m an optometrist by day – so I am always interested in seeing how visual impairment is portrayed in fiction. When I heard that Dreaming Death featured a blind heroine amidst at fantasy setting, I jumped at the chance of reviewing it. The book ended up being a bit of a mixed bag for me, but overall I liked the depth of the world building and the unique characters.

Shironne, our heroine, is unique in her ability to balance her powers and her disability with poise. Often, I find that blindness is almost a non-issue in fantasy setting – with characters being able to supplement it with absurdly keen hearing or vague psychic abilities. While she is a ‘sensitive’ with the ability to sense feelings and past events, the text still acknowledges the challenges of Shironne’s life. Even down to the minor things such as messy hair or mismatched clothes which go unnoticed. Nonetheless, the book never lets Shironne’s vision issue limit her, she navigates through life with confidence and a grace that’s admirable. I liked how she often challenges both the presumptions of other characters about her position, as a woman, as a teenager, and as a visually impared individual. Needless to say, she was one of my favourite parts about the novel.

The blend of genre in this novel also had me excited, as I don’t often see a murder mystery in a high fantasy setting. Shironne uses her ability as a sensitive to aid in the solving of crimes, providing vital clues she glimpse from touching objects or bodies. She receives her latest assignment at the beginning of the novel, thereby entangling her fate with Mikael Lee’s – the man of her literal dreams. It’s set up quite familiar to those well-versed in modern day crime procedural drama (*waves hand*), but the fantasy setting and abilities of our main characters offer a refreshing twist. I can already say that I look forward to future installments of their adventures in crime solving.

On a slightly more negative note, the worldbuilding of this universe is at once overwhelming and unsatisfying. I yearned to see some sort of family tree, as there were so many names and families being thrown around during the course of the novel – yet I struggled to recall who most of them were. The first book laid the foundation of a richer world: with multiple families and their fealties, as well as a diverse mix of culture. However, I felt I did not get to see much of the wolrdbuilding beyond the names – my brain still struggles to see how everything clicks together. I also felt that the psychic / clairvoyant powers of our protagonists were undeveloped, as we’re still in the dark about their extent of their limitations. I hope that more details will be revealed in the inevitable sequel.

Another thing I am torn about is the romance – it has notes of the instant attraction that I often turn away from in fiction. Yet, in this novel, I felt it works on some level. Shironne has been sharing Mikael’s prophetic dreams for many years, and their empath powers allowed for immediate chemistry. I can’t deny that I really enjoyed their banter, but I also felt a power imbalance between the two which prevented me from becoming fully invested. Fortunately, the book also recognises that Mikael is at a higher station in society. What’s more, Shironne is susceptible to being influenced by his emotions – a dangerous position for any young woman to be in. I liked that Mikael also sees this and never takes advantage of her. They don’t become fully enarmoured by one another either, and I like slow burn romances the best! So as you can see, I have very mixed feelings about this pairing, but I have hopes they will win me over completely with the sequel!

Overall, this is a unique and diverse fantasy that delivers, go forth and read!

Rating Report
Plot
Characters
Writing
Pacing
World-building
Romance
Overall: 3.7
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Aentee

Aentee

I'm Aentee, a 20-something lover of books and shiny things. By day, I attempt to prescribe books to all the patients in my optometry clinic. By night, I read books, watch TV, and spend way too much time on twitter.

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  1. says

    I usually check out books dealing with visual disability. I agree that blindness is often portraits as a non-issue. Glad to hear this wasn’t a case here. Also your mixed feelings about the romance intrigued me. While I don’t often read Fantasy, you definitely made this sound interesting. Thanks for your informative review!
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  2. says

    I am so bad with names, in books or in real life, so a family tree is essential for me to get a good grasp of things. It can be a struggle especially when the names are unique and would sometimes start with the same letter. *cross eye*