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The Dreamhunter Duet

In a time when young adult fantasy has been dominated by Lord of the Ring knock offs, urban fairies, and dragon books up the ying-yang, it is easy to see why many people have become exhausted with it. And just when you think you couldn't possibly want to read another book from the genre, along comes a little miracle that fills you with wonder yet again and reminds you why you loved fantasy in the first place.

The Dreamhunter Duet, published as Dreamhunter and Dreamquake for teens and adults here in the States, hadn't even made a blip on my radar. Then when the first was nominated for my library system's Mock Printz award with great enthusiasm, I figured I would give it a try. Having spent the last year immersed in graphic novels for committee work, it took me a while to adjust again to the slower pacing and completely internal imaging that makes up a nice long fantasy. But oh what a pleasure it proved to be! One I eagerly shared with my oldest friend for Christmas, and then promised her I would seek out a galley of the next at ALA one way or another. Happily, though they were not giving them out in Seattle, a kind publisher took pity on me, and sent a copy on.

The Dreamhunter Duet are books to be savored. Though thoroughly enthusiastic about them, it took me weeks to complete each, because I could not force myself to hurry through their world.

The story takes place in (what is likely) New Zealand at the turn of the previous century. In the countryside is an area that some people can pass through easily, but others when reaching its boarders, disappear into another Place entirely. Here some merely can wander, but others can sleep, and depending on the location, pick up marvelous dreams. These dreams can be brought back to the rest of the world and shared in different ways, depending on the talents of those who hunt them. At the center of the story is a family, the Humes, many of whom are Dreamhunters. They find themselves caught up in the middle of nefarious political plots, when ways are discover to abuse the powers of the dreams.

The books work on many levels, but for me there are two things that make these just amazing. First, is the way the author has made outlandish fantasy elements seem natural and real, by tying in small details that keep the reader feeling firmly anchored to reality. In Dreamhunter, one of the main characters literally has the piss scared out of her. This very human irritation is so convincingly rendered that you can almost feel her pain as a rash develops as she travels, unable to wash herself. Yet because of this, the nearly unimaginable Place she wanders becomes grounded and is given a life all its own. In the second book, Dreamquake, a scholar's intimate lecture about the Place becomes convincing, not because the magical elements are explained with precise clarity to the readers, but because his speech is interspersed with his very human snatching and nibbling of his companion's scone.

The other thing that makes these books soar for me, is the well rendered human emotions and relationships throughout the story. Large political metaphors easily applicable to our time are made human by the way they effect the Humes. Perfect understanding is not always to be had, but they struggle together to do what is best for themselves and society. Romance blooms not under perfect conditions, but within the conflicts that always surround the human heart. And love does its awkward best to make things right. 


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 6th, 2007 10:13 pm (UTC)
These books sound great! Do you think they could go younger, too?

Speaking of which, I have a question: there are so many books marketed for "8-12" or "10-14" (ages, not grades)-- what do you think pushes a book over the edge from middle-grade to teen? There's obviously a lot of crossover, especially among younger teens and middle school students. What would make you put a book in the teen/ya section as opposed to juvenile? Or are there books you'd cross-shelve?

Mar. 6th, 2007 10:53 pm (UTC)
Well, it looks like they are also marketing it under its British title The Rainbow Opera, and reviews strongly vary on the right ages. One reviewer says gr. 5-9, another 10-12! There are no graphic descriptions of sex or violence, though in the second book it is clear that one of the girls is sleeping with her beloved. I think it would work best for ages 14 and up.

Speaking of which, I have a question: there are so many books marketed for "8-12" or "10-14" (ages, not grades)-- what do you think pushes a book over the edge from middle-grade to teen?

I'm big in favor of cross-shelving when appropriate, but of not forcing a book down into a section just because it might appeal to a few readers. For example, The Ear, The Eye, and The Arm goes great in J and Teen because it is pretty unoffensive, but has depth and complexity older kids can enjoy. Aside from obvious sex and violence issues, I think the tone of how a book explores a topic needs to be recognized when deciding placement. Even if topics are handled discretly, the emotional complexity can be lost on too young readers.

Mar. 10th, 2007 05:25 pm (UTC)
purple hair?
Hello, Dawn! If you are the Dawn I think you are, I recently linked to your photo here: In My Rhyme of Dyeing.
Mar. 14th, 2007 08:57 pm (UTC)
Re: purple hair?
Yes! That is me. Thanks for the shout out :)
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )


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