In a novel that brings together modern Vancouver and a nightmarish dream world, Downum (The Kingdoms of Dust, 2012, etc.) offers an unsettling adventure that relies on some familiar elements of urban fantasy.
Liz Drake, a 25-year-old graduate student, has what she believes are prophetic dreams. When her friend Blake Enderly has a strange accident and falls into a coma, Liz finds herself dreaming about Blake drowning, over and over again, in a dark and progressively more fantastical place. Spurred on by her dreams and guilt over past dreams that seemed to foretell the deaths of friends and family, Liz goes to Vancouver to rescue Blake and is embroiled in an unlikely world of artists who are also magicians, monsters, and angels. The squabbling and hunger for power that drives these factions against each other also connects them to the mysterious city of Carcosa, a place that can only be reached by magic or, for those with a talent for it, by dreams. As Liz attempts to bring Blake back to the waking world, her efforts combine with the others’ ongoing struggles to let dangerous bits of the dream world leak into reality. While the various elements of the world inside the novel are appealing, they often cross the line into predictable urban fantasy cliché and offer very little freshness or surprise to charm the reader. The intersecting storylines sometimes seem to lose track of each other, and any suspense or momentum that might turn the novel’s expected elements into enjoyable entertainment are obscured by a slack plot and overwrought description.
A contemporary fantasy with a potentially fascinating setup that gets overwhelmed by prosaic writing and an unambitious use of familiar tropes.