Novel Recommendation: Dreams of Shreds and TattersTags:
August 20, 2016 by Travis Anderson
Amanda Downum has written a book that made me interested in urban fantasy. I haven’t had anything against the genre, per se, I just never seemed to gravitate towards it in novel format. Comics, animation, movies? Sure, I’m down. Books? Not so much. I may have let my prejudice for shitty covers taint my perception about urban fantasy because, as much as I hate most fantasy covers, I’ve rarely ever seen an urban fantasy cover I could tolerate, let alone liked. Luckily, the cover for Dreams of Shreds and Tatters sucked me in and Downum’s writing pulled me deeper into her story’s inky embrace. I did judge this book by its cover and, by the elder gods, I judged right!
It helps that Downum’s novel is rather Lovecraftian in its supernatural and fantasy milieu. I’m often put off by real world settings that have magic akin to high fantasy without the remarkable setting, creatures, and races to back it up. Again, I concede my bias and will admit that I have not given urban fantasy enough of a chance, so my aversion to cityscape arcana is most likely unfounded when it comes to novels. I know, it’s not fair, but I’ll try to rectify it, I promise. Downum skirted my skepticism, however, by invoking a device I love no matter the genre: unknowable power whose gifts, often magical, come at a price. How could I say no?
Before I get to the magic itself, I have to say that I enjoyed each of the characters quite a bit. Our main protagonist Liz is someone who I think we all wish we could be; one who would drop everything for a friend and go through hell and back – figuratively and literally – to save them. She is incredibly sympathetic and empathetic, almost to an absurd degree, with her need to help almost, at times, a compulsion. I did feel that Liz came off as melodramatic every once and awhile; there’s only so many times that I can read a person is immensely worried and scared for their friend before I’m like “I know! I am with you on this, okay? Take a second, sheesh.” I understand her friend, Blake, is in a coma that is far more than it appears and that time is short, but there were a couple points where her overwhelming concern grated on me. Not dissimilar, in fact, to her boyfriend, Alex. He is far more cynical and less prone to bouts of empathy towards anyone who is not Liz, but whenever she is in danger he is immediately concerned for her safety. Unless that is the case, however, he finds it cute then bothersome then frustrating. Yet, I was able to relate to both of them throughout the novel and I hope that says more about the author’s ability to write engaging, relatable characters and less about the warring factions of my personality.
Speaking of factions, let us delve deeper into the supernatural Vancouver that plays home to the novels setting. We come to learn early on that not only is magic real, but there are a wide number of differing groups and individuals who wield such power. What I enjoyed about this touch is that it’s very subtle. We don’t learn much about any other group besides Rainer’s – a mage on the run masquerading as an art gallery owner – and his local rival Justin’s cabal, more drug pusher than supreme sorcerer. Glimpses into Rainer’s past show that there is at least one group who is far more powerful than he, and other mystic types pop up here and there. The story is clearly focused on Liz and those around her, but Downum does a great job of making you interested in the wider world, thereby pulling you further into the story so the reader can eat up as many morsels as they can.
Magic proves to be both flashy and practical in this fictionalized Earth. The spells used are often subtle instead of bombastic. Whenever something with a little more flair is needed, though, it is well-earned and painted in detailed brush strokes. I can’t say how individuals possess arcane power without it being a spoiler, but I can say that, while I wasn’t surprised, I enjoyed the nuanced alterations to familiar tropes. I was impressed most with Antja as I initially thought it would be rather straight forward and it ended up being tilted just enough to interest me that much more.
Lovecraft has a worthy disciple in Amanda Downum. I had not been in the know of her books before Dreams of Shreds and Tatters, but now that we have been introduced I will definitely see what her older work has to offer. She has written an engrossing story filled with dark magic, darker emotions, subtle secrets, and passionate characters. If you’re a fan of supernatural stories, urban fantasy, or are looking for something modern with a twist of spooky and sorcery, this is the novel for you.