Where Dreams Descend was pitched as Phantom of the Opera meets Moulin Rouge; I’ve seen pieces of the latter and have literally no idea of what the former is about. So those comp titles mean very little to me but I can still say that this book is rather intriguing. It’s a nice mix of fantasy and mystery and there’s this air to it that makes the reader want to keep reading to find out what the story is really about. Given that it’s a duology, you don’t really get a lot of answers and feel like it was just getting started when it ends. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I’m not quite sure. But I know that I began to enjoy it more and more as each chapter went by and given the not-so-great books I’ve been reading as of late, this was the best thing since sliced bread.
I will start with my complaints, since they are pretty minor in the grand scheme of things. First off, I do feel like the world building was more on the weaker side. One thing about the city of Glorian is that no one really knows anything about it. The people don’t know their history, those in cities other than Glorian know little to nothing about it, and because the city is such a question mark in the context of the book, it in turn becomes a question mark for the reader. Now, I will say that by giving the city such a mysterious identity makes the reader want to keep going with the book to see if they’ll find out anything about it. But it’s a weak point because it doesn’t allow the reader to understand the world that’s trying to be built here. I can’t see what Angeles is trying to create if she keeps the world a mystery to her characters. I get what she wanted to do as a plot line, for sure, but part of me feels like a mysterious city is more well suited for an established series rather than the first of a duology. In addition to the weak world building, I found the magic system to be the other weak spot of this book. I liked the idea that magic was something that was found everywhere, that it’s not some outlawed thing or unnatural occurrence, and that people can either be born with or acquire magic. I enjoyed that part of the idea of magic in this story, but I don’t really understand how the magic itself works. I think it works by imagination, projection, and intent from the magician, creating something in their mind and willing it to manifest, but it’s not overly clear. It seemed like any time Kallia wanted something to happen with her magic it simply would but you never really get to see how she makes it happen or how she learned to do her magic in the first place. Others might be fine with the simplicity of the magic but since I’m super picky about magic systems, I wasn’t all too happy with this one. But since it’s more of a minor inconvenience I was able to get used to it and move on rather quickly.
The thing that pleased me the most about this book was the prose and narrative. After putting myself through book after book with the incorrect narrative, I was beyond happy to see that Where Dreams Descend was actually written in the correct narrative. I’ve been saying for months that fantasy books should be written in the third person or else it would feel wrong, and Janella Angeles heard my prayers and answered me. She was able to create a POV for both Kallia and Daron, all while writing in third person and simply made it work. Her prose was, in my opinion, absolutely beautiful and reminded me a lot of Lisa Maxwell’s in a way, but was still very much her own. I felt like Angeles’s prose definitely made her story flow better and feel a bit more magical, and it really felt like it was a story being told to you rather than putting the reader in the characters’ place, which is why the narrative absolutely worked. And though the mysteriousness of the world building weakened the story, I think the air of mystery found in the prose actually helped it. And given that this is a debut, it impressed me that much more.
The characters themselves were pretty interesting, particularly Kallia, Daron, Aaros, and the Conquerors. I was a bit annoyed that Angeles took more of an easy route with creating a feminist character with Kallia, stating from the get go that magic was for men and women with magic were more suited for household labour, but I also feel like Kallia’s behaviour and the way she held herself made up for that. I admired that she was a person who recognized what she wanted and would do anything to go after it, and though she didn’t view vulnerability as a weakness she saw her weakness as a vulnerability. She knew if she was perceived as weak in the competition she’d be written off or excluded so she had to be strong for her own personal survival, which I found interesting and commendable. I liked Daron from the get go, and he reminded me a lot of The Last Magician‘s Harte, which is a pretty major compliment coming from me. He was someone who’d used to perform magic for a living but after a terrifying accident he was forced to retire, but wouldn’t stop until he figured out what that accident had to do with this mysterious city. He seemed to be Kallia’s opposite, more calm and collected to her loud, which helped with other things further down, but I enjoyed his “tortured by his past” type of character that surprisingly had more layers than I expected. I liked watching him open up with Kallia, and her opening up with him, creating quite the dynamic together. And then Aaros and the Conquerors, Juno and Canary, were more for the comedic relief and lighter, fun scenes in the story but the book wouldn’t be the same without them. They were the first friends Kallia really had and people she truly trusted and proved to be relatively important in this story and of what’s to come, I’m hoping. The character of Jack was more of an enigma to me, since you can never really tell if he’s supposed to be the villain or a silent all-knowing protector, but my heart wants to think he’s the former. Again, linked back to the world building, his character is the most mysterious and therefore the weakest character in the cast since you really don’t understand his role, or even who or what he is. If we’re talking in Phantom related terms, he’ll probably make more sense to others but for me, I really don’t see where Angeles wanted to go with him. Other than his role, I think the characters were all pretty well written and enjoyable to read about.
The romance between Kallia and Daron was more than I could ever want and I’m so happy Angeles delivered. It was filled with angst, tension, a layer of forbidden-ness (the good kind), and of course, magic. I loved how Daron was more or less reluctantly drawn to her and almost had to force himself to admit something for her, but also enjoyed how equally insecure both characters were in their feelings for one another, thinking they were alone in what they were feeling. That’s the kind of romantic plot lines I am here for and like any normal person, I need more of it. The buildup and payoff were pretty well done, giving the reader a bit of slowburn but not too much, all to come to a climactic cliffhanger.
Again, for a debut fantasy I’d say this was pretty well done. And to get through a book and have minor complaints but overall enjoy it is all you can really ask for. It’s a story that’s filled with magic and mystery, a little too much at times, but it’s written in a way that makes the reader really want to know more. I’m definitely going to be checking out the latter half of this duology and highly anticipate the publication date. I’m just hoping that where this book set up all the questions, the second book will have all the answers.
In a city covered in ice and ruin, a group of magicians face off in a daring game of magical feats to find the next headliner of the Conquering Circus, only to find themselves under the threat of an unseen danger striking behind the scenes.
As each act becomes more and more risky and the number of missing magicians piles up, three are forced to reckon with their secrets before the darkness comes for them next.
The Star: Kallia, a powerful showgirl out to prove she’s the best no matter the cost
The Master: Jack, the enigmatic keeper of the club, and more than one lie told
The Magician: Demarco, the brooding judge with a dark past he can no longer hide
Where Dreams Descend is the startling and romantic first book in Janella Angeles’ debut Kingdom of Cards fantasy duology where magic is both celebrated and feared, and no heart is left unscathed.