REVIEW: Before I Wake by Kathryn Smith
Dear Ms. Smith:
This was an interesting departure from the historical paranormals you’ve written and I think the setting and characters are a good fit for you. The voice sounds very natural. Before I Wake is more of an urban fantasy with a dash of romance than a true romance. It features Dawn Riley, a Nightmare. She is able traverse between the corporeal world and the dream world. She is an anomaly, one that both frightens and attracts those that inhabit the Dreaming.
Dawn can affect the dreams of others and did so once with terrible consequences. Since then she has hidden from her talents and rejected her Dreaming abilities. She doesn’t totally get away from dreams, though and is currently neuropsychologist studying under a top researcher in the field of sleep research.
One of Dawn’s clients, Noah, is an artist. She finds him attractive, but the client/patient relationship prevents any type of consummation of her feelings. Noah and Dawn flirt, though, and when his dreams and her dreams begin to overlap, the client/patient relationship walls fall down.
Dawn is being stalked in her dreams, as is Noah and others. It appears that Dawn might be the only one to combat this and to do so she must embrace her power and her past.
There are some really nicely done conflicts particularly the storyline involving Dawn’s mother who, in the corporeal realm appears to be in a coma, but is actually asleep, dreaming so that she can be with her lover and Dawn’s father Morpheus. Dawn’s struggle over her love for her mother and her distaste at what her mother is doing to her corporeal family is moving. Dawn’s is a near impossible position as she sees her father and siblings mourn for her mother and spend obscene amounts of money on medical care when her mother is choosing to be asleep. It’s like the dark side of the HEA.
Another dark side was the initial sex scene between Dawn and the Dreamkin that was part forced and part willing and Dawn wasn’t quite sure what it was, leaving the reader a bit unsure. I think those ambivalences always make a story more interesting.
Noah is also an interesting character. He has no special power and in a fight in the dream realm, he’s fairly useless. Yet, he’s interesting and sexy in his own right. However, there is a guard of Morpheus’ that is given a significant amount of page time and I can’t help but wonder at the future of Dawn’s relationship with Noah given that this isn’t really a straight up romance.
I had a couple problems with the story. One big and one small but both took me out of the story.
The dream world setting is not one often done in romance and from that aspect, I think this is a fresh romance setting. While I thought that the book was innovative (because I didn’t immediately connect it to The Matrix until you drew references to it and because I’m not familiar with Gaiman’s work), I found that the frequent references to The Matrix disruptive. It’s possible that you brought up similarities preemptively so a reader wouldn’t close the book and cry foul. For me, everytime the Matrix was mentioned, I looked for Matrix-like similarities. The most troublesome aspect was that the naming of the Dream King Morpheus. Now I understand that Morpheus is the Greek god of dreams and that is the name of the Gaiman character Dream, but using that name with the Matrix and Gaiman references made Morpheus too derivative in my eyes and every time he appeared, the image of Laurence Fishburne superimposed himself onto the pages, bringing with him all the characteristics of Laurence Fishburne’s character such that I was no longer in your story but some strange conglomeration of your story and the Matrix.
And possibly that was your intent, but for me, I found it distracting.
The second thing that bothered me was the constant use of brand names. Everything had a name. Dawn isn’t just at a drugstore she is at a Duane Reade. She doesn’t just fantasize about movie stars, she fantasizes about David Boreanz and Clive Owens. She watches Smallville, reads Lisa Kleypas, wears Clinique Black Honey gloss and Xai Xai lipgloss from Cargo, uses a Benefit bent fine brush for smudging her eyeliner and Benefit mascara. When she ate Indian food, we found out it was chicken tiki masala, sag peneer, chana masala, and lamb vindaloo, basmati rice, and naan. It was detail overload.
While this book didn’t work for me on every level, it was different enough for me to try it again with the second series. C+