REVIEW: Waking the Dreamer, by K. Aten

Title: Walking the Dreamer
Author: K. Aten
Genre: Action Adventure, Paranormal, Science Fiction, Romance, Dystopian
LGBTQ+ Category: Lesbian
Publisher: Regal Crest
Pages: 311
Reviewer: M.A.

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About The Book

By the end of the 21st century, the world had become a harsh place. After decades of natural and man-made catastrophes, nations fell, populations shifted, and seventy percent of the continents became uninhabitable without protective suits. Technological advancement strode forward faster than ever and it was the only thing that kept human society steady through it all. No one could have predicted the discovery of the Dream Walkers. They were people born with the ability to leave their bodies at will, unseen by the waking world. Having the potential to become ultimate spies meant the remaining government regimes wanted to study and control them. The North American government, under the leadership of General Rennet, demanded that all Dream Walkers join the military program. For any that refused to comply, they were hunted down and either brainwashed or killed.

The very first Dream Walker discovered was a five year old girl named Julia. And when the soldiers came for her at the age of twenty, she was already hidden away. A decade later found Julia living a new life under the government’s radar. As a secure tech courier in the capital city of Chicago, she does her job and the rest of her time avoids other people as much as she is able. The moment she agrees to help another fugitive Walker is when everything changes. Now the government wants them both and they’ll stop at nothing to get what they want.
2019 Golden Crown Literary Society finalist in the Science Fiction / Fantasy category!

The Review

Waking the Dreameris an interesting vision of a near-future dystopian America, full of realistic details. Unfortunately, it squanders that potential with a strange twist ending, but more on that in a moment.

The blurb for this book emphasizes the fascinating dream walkers, people with the ability to leave their bodies while they sleep and interact with the minds of others. But the real standout is the setting: Chicago, reduced to a military dystopia after a series of natural disasters and environmental meltdowns. Characters don’t know what trees or stars look like. No one can go outside without full body suits and elaborate breathing apparatuses. The world feels real, both because every detail of life after such a catastrophe is attended to andbecause the geography of Chicago is kept in mind. (It was also nice to read a story like this not set in New York, both for logical reasons and just for a change of pace.)

But the dream walkers are pretty cool. They can speak mind-to-mind with other dreamers and even ordinary people. They can walk through walls in their dreaming state and project their consciousness miles away from their sleeping body. They can even kill other dream walkers without lifting a finger. The frequent action scenes take full advantage of these powers, making for some pretty original fights since the main character has so much to draw on.

Main character Julia is a dream walker, the first discovered and the most heavily studied. When the government cracked down on dream walkers, she only escaped thanks to a sympathetic doctor. Since then, she’s lived in hiding, honing her extensive power set to make herself as much money as possible working as a courier. Thanks to her freedom, Julia has discovered abilities no other dream walker can harness, but she keeps her abilities to herself. The violent deaths of her parents, the doctor who saved her, and other dream walkers haunt Julia’s every thought, and she keeps high walls between herself and other people, especially her allies. Julia’s slow journey from bitter, suspicious loner to loving partner capable of rebuilding the world was easily the best part of the journey. Her trauma was never downplayed, and she was given time to deal with her lingering issues of fear and distrust. When she becomes a hero, you believe it.

This is very much Julia’s story, and everyone else gets short shrift. Love interest Niko gets the most development. She’s a dream walker hiding who she is to work as a cop, and her skills outside of dream walking are impressive. Thanks to the plot, though, she ends up being a pretty passive character. In the first half of the book, she relies on Julia for everything because she’s been exiled from her old life, and in the second half, she’s been captured and can’t be active in their escape until the very end. She also knows nothing about her dream walker powers. However, her romance with Julia is pretty sweet. Niko persistently breaks down Julia’s walls with patience and understanding. I just wish she had been given more to do. 

If the story had ended at the 90% mark, I would have been satisfied. The story moved along at a good clip, the romance was sweet, the sci-fi details were well thought-out, and everything tied up nicely without oversimplifying the greater problems facing the world. Unfortunately, the final 10% broke the book for me, and invalidated everything that happened over the course of the book before it.

The author shows a lot of promise, and I hope the next book leaves out the trick ending.

The Reviewer

M.A. Hinkle swears a lot and makes jokes at inappropriate times, so she writes about characters who do the same thing. She is the author of Death of a Bachelor and Diamond Heart, both from Ninestar Press. She’s also worked as an editor and proofreader for the last eight years, critiquing everything from graduate school applications to romance novels.

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