2015; 182 pages. Book 1 (which is all there is so far) of the series “The Chronicles of Willow Grey”. New Author? : Yes. Genre : Fantasy, Coming of Age. Overall Rating : 7½*/10.
“Curiouser and curiouser,” Willow Grey whispers to herself, after falling down the cellar steps of the house she and her dad had just moved into and hearing the sound of a door opening and closing. Yet when she looked back up the cellar stairs, the door at the top hadn’t moved.
So there is only one logical thing to do – explore the new, dark, creepy basement until the source of the squeaky door sound is located. Which she finds, and is surprised to see only utter darkness beyond it. Well, Willow is a teenager, so of course the only sensible thing is to cross the threshold.
The pitch-black tunnel eventually leads to trees. And moonlight. And a small man. None of which should logically be in a tunnel in a cellar.
Curiouser and curiouser.
What’s To Like...
The Door of Dreams is a YA fantasy tale, the target audience being teenage girls. Our heroine, Willow Grey, is hampered by an inoperable brain tumor, and given 6 months to live. Under such circumstances, exploring a new world is an easy choice to make.
The book is short – Kindle says 182 pages – but Greg James manages to guide the reader to a number of neat settings, introduce us to a “just-right” amount of fascinating characters, and surprise us with a dozen or so species of fantasy critters, albeit a couple of which are simply mentioned in passing, not beheld.
There is a smidgen of cussing (mostly uttered by Willow), as well as some booze (wine) and quasi-drugs (stardraught), but these are all rather mild and tasteful. Some good guys get killed; some bad guys live to fright (sic) another day. The standard fantasy elements of magic, prophecy, and the Chosen One are present.
This may sound like a thousand other fantasy tales you’ve read, but the pacing is brisk, the action starts right away and doesn’t let up, the chapters are short, the storytelling drew me in, and there were just enough twists to keep me on my toes. So The Door of Dreams is a cut or two above your average book in this genre.
The two main questions running through the storyline are a.) is there anything to be done about Willow’s brain tumor, and b.) from Willow’s perspective, how much of this is “real”, and how much is just a dream? The former is answered surprisingly early (there are things that even stardraught can’t cure); the latter is unresolved, and I suspect it may be a motif throughout the series.
Kewlest New Word…
Barbican (n.) : the outer defense of a castle or walled city, especially a double tower above a gate or drawbridge..
“Here we are,” he said, handing her a steaming cup.
Willow sipped at it. It tasted of autumn and its aroma was that of bonfires on a November evening.
“What is this?”
Henu sat down on a chair and beamed at her, “It is a very special brew called stardraught. It heals. It strengthens. It makes things better.”
Willow drank some more. She could feel it making her fingers and toes tingle with warmth. “I think it’s time for me to wake up now.”
“Wake up?” he asked, brow creasing, “so, you think me a dream, friend Willow?” (loc. 136)
“Am I real? What could it mean to me if I was not? These are hard questions but I believe people in your world ask them also.”
“You’ve got that right, I guess.”
“So, if I am not here, if I am just a dream, a thought, an image then I am one which can weep, shout, be hurt, cry, and love all the same. I am more than a word because I have a name and perhaps you gave me this name. If so, then you are something more than just a friend to me. You named me, you shaped me, you made me what I am and, for this, I say I will not abandon you to whatever fate in waiting.” (loc. 1342)
The Door of Dreams sells for $0.99 at Amazon, and keep in mind that the rest of this series has not been published yet. Greg James has a dozen or so other e-books available, ranging in price from $0.99-$2.99, with a couple of them for free. Most of his books are 200 pages or slightly shorter. I think his pricing strategy is very effective for attracting readers.
“Remember us, Willow Grey, even a dreamed world is a precious thing.” (loc. 275)
There are some quibbles, but they are minor. First off, there’s a map and a gIossary, both of which have got to be very useful. But they are in the back of the book, so I didn’t discover them until I had finished. Yes, there are links to both in the Table of Contents, but who bothers with that when starting an e-book? These should be moved to the front.
Second, there’s no build-up to a climactic ending, the story just sort of stops to catch its breath after 182 pages of action. This is way better than resorting to a banal cliffhanger. But with the book being so short, I wonder whether it would be preferable to combine Books 1 and 2 and build the tension to a properly exciting ending. Of course, this is speculative, since Book 2 isn’t here yet.
Finally, the whole brain tumor thing left me somewhat befuddled. Does it contribute to the story? If it were omitted from the plotline, what would change? Admittedly, this may well take on some new, twisty importance in the next book, after which I may have to withdraw my quibble.
7½ Stars. Don’t let the quibbles dissuade you from reading The Door of Dreams. I found it to be a page-turner, and will probably buy the sequels when they come out. In the meantime, I’ll content myself with the two “Book One Freebies” that kick off a couple of other series by Greg James.