This review contains spoilers.
I enjoyed this book. Some of the descriptions are absolutely brilliant: “He smiled. Suddenly, his whole face was transformed. The slightly-too-big chin, the crooked nose, and eyes maybe spaced a centimeter too far apart—all of it became perfect, symmetrical. Beautiful.”
My main complaint is about the pacing. The first half of the book drags on a bit, with passages that are irrelevant to the story, while the last quarter is rushed. I can appreciate the attempt to make the story more contemporary and speculative and magical realism-y rather than high fantasy, but I also feel like the author was denying what the story really is, by doing that. The reader is left with relatively little of the dreamland that the title promises. What little world-building there is still manages to be good and convincing, though.
The foray into the world of mental health world was annoying to me, as a mental health advocate, because it had nothing to actually say about mental health. It would have been far more interesting and meaningful if Dea had actually had even a minor flaw in her sanity, and it got addressed during her hospitalization. It would have been more interesting and meaningful if she had developed a deeper level of friendship with any of the other mental health patients. The only existing message about mental health patients is this: They’re normally petty, but sometimes they’re not.
And then this isn’t exactly a plot hole, but it’s something that never gets addressed: When Odea and her mother performed the body-swap and escaped into the modern world, did they leave bodies behind in the dreamland? Were those bodies buried? How does Dea’s father feel about the fact that his wife is no longer in the same body she would have been in before?
There are tension points left over that I would like to see resolved in a sequel. The king of the dreamland needs to let Harriet move freely between worlds, and needs to abolish slavery. But judging from the way this book shied away from the high fantasy label, I doubt we’ll get to see those things happen.
All in all: 4/5 stars