Valrand’s surreal debut sci-fi thriller ties the mysterious dreams of a timid British schoolteacher to the guns-blazing action of an international conspiracy.
Charles Ryder and Vivian Venables work as an international investigative team. Ryder is a skilled engineer, and Venables is an undercover agent, formerly of U.S. Air Force Intelligence. Together, they’re investigating a mysterious document, leaked from a United States government computer facility, which could have international—or even intergalactic—significance. All of this is revealed to Cicely Denfeld, an average London schoolteacher, in dreams—intense, disturbing visions from either Ryder’s or Venable’s perspective, in which she relives scenes from their investigations. At first, Cicely thinks she might be going insane and seeks the assistance of Dr. Burton T. McClellan, who prescribes her mild sedatives and a course of therapy. Cicely’s problem, however, is far more complex than either of them initially realizes. As answers lead to more questions, Cicely finds herself entangled in a massive conspiracy. This situation tests her strength and leads to some of the best character development in the story, transforming her from a passive teacher to a determined woman driven by the strength of her ideals. This transformation can be hard to see at times, however, due to the prose’s restrained, old-fashioned tone, which tends to obscure many characters’ emotional experiences. It’s also occasionally unclear if the story takes place in the 1980s or the modern day; Cicely, for example, still uses cassette tapes, while other characters take pictures and video on their cellphones. That said, the plot moves at a good pace, with well-spaced revelations and twists, although the ending leaves a few questions unanswered.
An uneven sci-fi thriller with a classical feel.