Dream is yet another one of the books I recently read that dwells in the “stuck in the game” fantasy sub-genre. I think I’ve finally admitted to myself that I just really enjoy this type of story. I bought this book while trolling for indie titles on Amazon both due to the alternate world pitch, and also because the blurb mentions that the characters are all x military. I’m a sucker for vet characters in a fantasy setting. I think I got my first taste of this type of story with John Ringo novels over a decade ago.
I am not adverse to a good, solid world setup or intro by a story’s writer. However, Dream jumps right into the action and I think it was a wise choice for the narrative style. The idea that all the characters built their ties with each other over the years by serving in combat and then table top role playing together was an interesting hook too.
As the book’s blurb states, all four main characters are transported to another world via magic. The reason for their summons doesn’t make a lot of sense at the beginning of the story, but becomes much more clear past the half way point. The characters themselves while not especially deep are all unique and their interactions are actually pretty accurate for soldiers or veterans. That said, the author paints with a very wide brush indeed, and as a vet I think it’s worth pointing out that soldiers and veterans are all individuals. People vary by region, creed, background, etc. Since all the characters in Dream are from the same area geographically and had known each other a long time, it made sense for them to have similar morality and world views.
One of the strongest points in this novel are the action scenes. I really enjoy the author’s narrative style for these portions because while it doesn’t get too bogged down with details, I was still able to craft vivid mental images of what was going on. Additionally, like other stories in this sub-genre, it’s extremely satisfying as a reader to share in the characters’ victories and review their progression in strength and loot.
However, there are a few things I wasn’t thrilled about which I think were all symptoms of the the latter half of the novel feeling rushed. After I was done reading Dream I wondered if some of the book was left on the editing room floor or if the author had been trying to pare the story down under a specific word count. By the time I felt like I was really beginning to learn about the characters and care about them, the story was already over.
What’s more, entire portions of the story are left untold. For instance, we never find out what the main characters do in their downtime. I’ve read other reviews where readers complained that a week of travel time in the story was glossed over, but I was okay with that. It’s reasonable to assume that nothing interesting enough to read happened during an uneventful week of travel. However, Americans being in another world and the culture shock this creates in our characters is one of the core plot points of the story. I was interested in knowing what the characters got up to during their down time and what they saw around them in cities etc.
Ironically, the best “culture shock” elements in the writing were between veterans and civilians, not between Americans and people from a fantasy world. I felt these portions (not going into too much detail here so as not to give away spoilers) were well written and I would have really enjoyed knowing more about how the native people of the fantasy world saw the events transpiring around them too.
The last thing I wasn’t a fan of was the shift in tone at about the halfway point of the story. I like when characters get revelations that change their plans or world view in a story, but I don’t like it when a story’s entire scope and breadth of conflict radically changes. I realize that raising the stakes of success and failure is a common literary device, but I prefer when writers get to that point more gradually, not over the course of one chapter.
I give Dream 3.5 out of 5 stars. I would give it a higher rating if it were a little bit longer. I’m also sad that so far as I know, the author is not planning a sequel. This book is a relatively quick read with a lot of fun moments, and includes some serious subject matter too. One more point to bring up is that I saw several other reviews floating around online where people said the novel was hard (as in uncomfortable) to read. There are some heavy hitting moments and our main characters are not always the most likable people, but this is part of what endured the story to me. There are definitely some uncomfortable parts, but in my experience, combat veterans in a group often elicit this reaction in outsiders; I felt like the writing was accurate and the group dynamics believable. One again, I feel these scenes were accurately written and it’s obvious that the author is a veteran who has spent a significant amount of time around other soldiers.
It wasn’t a literary masterpiece, but I enjoyed Dream. Unlike other escapism literature I usually read, I really got the author’s message by the end of the book; some things are worth fighting and dying for, but not everyone is ready or willing to make that choice.