REVIEW: The Dream-Maker’s Magic by Sharon Shinn
Dear Ms. Shinn,
Although The Dream-Maker’s Magic is the third book in your series of books that began with The Safe-Keeper’s Secret and continued in The Truth-Teller’s Tale, it easily stands on its own. And although, like the two earlier books, it is aimed at young adults, this adult enjoyed the book very much.
Set in an unnamed kingdom, The Dream-Maker’s Magic is the story of a friendship that grows into love. The narrator of the story is Kellen, a girl who hasn’t known much affection in her young life. As Kellen’s mother tells it, she gave birth to a boy in a difficult and painful labor which nearly killed her. After a glimpse at the child, Kellen’s mother fell asleep. When she was healthy enough to care for her baby herself, she discovered that some time when she wasn’t looking, the child was magically transformed into a girl. “I was that baby,” says Kellen. “I was that strangely altered child.”
From that day on, my mother watched me with a famished attention, greedy for clues. I had transformed once; might I change again? Into what else might I transform, what other character might I assume? As for myself, I cultivated a demeanor of sturdy stoicism. I was hard to ruffle, hard to incite to anger–at least that anyone could tell from watching me. It was as if I hoped my unvarying mildness would reassure my mother, convince her to trust me. It was as if she was some animal lured from wild lands and I was the seasoned trainer who habitually made no sudden moves.
Even after a Truth-Teller, a woman who will answer any question truthfully, tells Kellen’s mother that Kellen has always been a girl, even in the womb, her mother cannot accept it. She continues to dress Kellen as a boy and to refer to Kellen as her son. Kellen’s father cannot bear this lunacy and so he abandons his wife and child. As for Kellen, she wears shapeless, boyish clothes without complaint and does a son’s chores for her mother.
One day a new schoolteacher arrives in the town of Thrush Hollow. By dint of his strong will, the teacher persuades Kellen’s mother to enroll Kellen in his school, although Kellen has little interest in attending it. At the school, most of the boys tease Kellen and try to trip her, but one boy is different.
Gryffin’s legs have been twisted from birth. His mother abandoned him as a baby and left him in the care of an abusive uncle who is a tavern-keeper. Gryffin is kind to Kellen and the two quickly become friends, and so, two people who previously felt like misfits find acceptance, understanding, and warmth in one another’s company.
Gryffin tells Kellen about his uncle and about his dreams, dreams of the day he will escape the tavern and travel to the capital, Wodenderry to further his studies and pursue a career. He studies hard and does all he can to make his dreams come true, he wants Kellen to dream of a different future as well, but Kellen is only able to make wishes for other people, not for herself.
Then, just as Kellen and Gryffin’s relationship is starting to blossom into their first experience of romantic feelings, the kingdom’s Dream-Maker, whose sorrows invest her with the power to fulfill other’s dreams, loses her power to make wishes come true, and a new and far more powerful Dream-Maker is found. Will Gryffin’s dream of escaping Thrush Hollow come true, and if so, what will happen to Kellen?
The Dream-Maker’s Magic reveals its charms slowly and with patience. Because of her mother’s delusions and her father’s abandonment, Kellen is old beyond her years. The narration, as in the section I quoted above, gives voice to her thoughts and observations beautifully. In keeping with her maturity and with the stoicism she presents to the world, her narration is mostly matter of fact, but occasionally she allows some of the childlike wonder within her to slip out.
Gryffin is even more mature. He is a thoughtful, kind and sensitive boy and as much a treasure to Kellen as she is to him. Perhaps because they share some of the same struggles, they are each exactly the kind of friend the other needs, and the book conveys this well.
There are times when Kellen and Gryffin suffer because of their uncaring guardians, but there are also many times when strangers do the young people good deeds. “Kindness is a form of magic,” says one character. “So everyone should be capable of at least a little.”
If The Dream-Maker’s Magic doesn’t have the near-epic scope of some of your books for adults, if it’s not breathlessly romantic like some of those, I think it’s because it’s not intended to be. It is something smaller, but very fine: a thoughtful, quiet enchantment. A-.