There are two unusual things about Jessica (“Jesse”) Drake, the teenage protagonist of Dreamwalker, C.S. Friedman’s first foray into Young Adult fiction and the start of what’s billed as a new, “open-ended” series.
First of all, Jesse has bizarre dreams about other worlds, some similar to her own, some completely alien. Many of those dreams feature doors or gates of some sort.
And secondly, after a DNA test meant to confirm that her paranoid absentee dad is actually her biological father, it turns out that she doesn’t share any DNA with either of her parents. Since she wasn’t adopted, and the hospital provides incontrovertible proof that she wasn’t swapped at birth, this is somewhat of a mystery.
I’m sure it won’t come as a surprise that these facts turn out to be related.
C.S. Friedman shows that she has some experience as an author (understatement alert) when she grabs the reader’s attention by kicking Dreamwalker into high gear fairly early on. Jesse’s younger brother Tommy reports that a mysterious woman is watching their house. For some reason, a stranger wants to buy some of Jesse’s school art projects. She discovers an entire online group full of kids who, like her, don’t share any DNA with their parents. And then, to cap it all off, Jesse’s house burns down, and when the smoke clears, it turns out Tommy’s been abducted.
All these events start Jesse and two new friends from the online “changeling” group on a bizarre, cross-dimensional quest to find and rescue her brother. In the process, they discover… well, you’ll see. The previous paragraph may sound like it gives away a lot of the plot, but all of it’s on the book’s dust jacket because it’s really just the start of a wild, occasionally surreal and surprisingly dark adventure.
Dreamwalker, taken on its own, is a good-but-not-great novel that shows promise for the future of the series. One problem is that, despite getting off to a quick start, the middle and end suffer a bit from the amount of setup required to prep subsequent volumes in the series. I also feel like the shine’s off the YA multiverse concept a bit, although that may mostly be because I just read the latest installment in Ian McDonald’s Everness series, which puts a very different—and, in my opinion, much more original entertaining—spin on that idea.
With Dreamwalker, C.S. Friedman has successfully taken the jump from her usual dark fantasy/SF style to modern YA. The novel offers realistic portrayals of teenage characters, as well as a plot and prose that should match the expectations of that audience. It’s yet more proof of her amazing talent as an author that she pulled this off. However, if I’m to be fair, I would have preferred something in the style of, say, her Coldfire trilogy over Dreamwalker. It’s a good novel, but nowhere near as memorable or unique as her earlier work.