Genres: adult, fantasy
Shironne Anjir's status as a sensitive is both a gift and a curse. Her augmented senses allow her to discover and feel things others can’t, but her talents come with a price: a constant assault of emotions and sensations has left her blind. Determined to use her abilities as best she can, Shironne works tirelessly as an investigator for the Larossan army.
A member of the royal family's guard, Mikael Lee also possesses an overwhelming power—he dreams of the deaths of others, sometimes in vivid, shocking detail, and sometimes in cryptic fragments and half-remembered images.
But then a killer brings a reign of terror to the city, snuffing out his victims with an arcane and deadly blood magic. Only Shironne can sense and interpret Mikael’s dim, dark dreams of the murders. And what they find together will lead them into a nightmare...
Dreaming Death is the first in a new adult fantasy series full of murder, mystery, and magic. The story is told through several POV characters, but the narrative mostly revolves around Mikael, a broadcaster, and Shironne, a touch-sensitive. The story-world is rich, and this is definitely the sort of fantasy novel in which a large portion of the novel (especially at the beginning) is spent on explaining the world, its rules, its magic, and how it all works together.
I was immediately hooked by the creepy and heartbreaking first chapter in which we witness a murder through the terrified victim’s eyes. This is what Mikael sees when he dreams a death. These dreams come unbidden to him, and are obviously deeply unsettling as he perceives everything as though he himself is the victim. As a broadcaster, the dreams are then sent out to all nearby sensitives. When Mikael dreams, many suffer.
Shironne is the touch-sensitive who, more than any other, is able to connect to Mikael’s dreams. She sees the dreams no matter how much distance is between them. She sees them, and remembers in perfect clarity, where Mikael cannot. As a touch-sensitive, she can perceive the secrets within objects. Everything speaks to her. Her skills come in especially useful in aiding criminal investigations. Shironne employs her services in forensics, able to divine the who of a murder as well as the how.
Both main characters are excellently characterized and readers come to have a full understanding of both of them. Mikael is kind, inquisitive, and caring. Shironne is bold, playful, and brave. She is also blind, and I love the book’s unassuming and non-othering approach to her blindness.
Mikael used to be a “regular” sensitive, able only to perceive the emotions, moods, or intent of those around him. Why did Mikael suddenly become a broadcaster? Why is Shironne the one who can so most directly “plug in” to Mikael’s dreams? These questions and more are opened up for intriguing exploration. And as a string of mystical, blood magic-related murders erupt across the city, Mikael and Shironne find themselves on a path that will plunge them together into a dark and frightening new reality.
The story reads very much like a 19th century version of an urban fantasy, although the world portrayed here is not our own. There’s a grit, and a darkness here, that lends itself to creating a tangible atmosphere. I will also mention that of the three cultures so far portrayed, the vast majority are POC. Again, like Shironne’s blindness, there is no special attention called to this. It is simply how the world is.
I would say that this book has just, maybe, the lightest touch of romance. Shironne and Mikael don’t even meet until the halfway point of the book. As the touch-sensitive to a broadcaster, their relationship to each other has already been determined. They are entwined in ways neither asked for. It is more like they recognize the undeniable pull that exists between them. But it is really just the barest stir of feelings, the beginning of a connection that clearly has the potential to run quite deep. However, Shironne is 17 to Mikael’s 23, although a legal adult in the world of the book. Still, she lives with her mother and many of her concerns are typical adolescent concerns. As mature as Shironne is, she doesn’t yet have the life experience that had me 100% buying into the pairing. I appreciate the foundation that is being laid now, though, and I certainly hope I can read the payoff in future volumes.
I admit that I stumbled a bit in the beginning largely becoming acquainted with the three different main cultures in the book, understanding how they interact, and how the magic/abilities work. It is a lot to take in, and I found myself often repeating paragraphs or flipping back a few pages. There was also a certain distance in the third person writing style and some phrasing could get repetitive, but these are relatively minor complaints.
I cared about these characters, both major and minor. Once I was used to the complexities and details of the world, I relished the intricate worldbuilding. The mystery kept me turning the pages, reluctant to put the book down once I got into a groove. I tried to find information on a Book 2 but couldn’t find anything from the publisher. My fingers crossed we get to explore more of Shironne’s and Mikael’s world. This is a promising series starter with epic potential.