Title: Where Dreams Descend by Janella Angeles
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Publication date: 25 August 2020
Genre: Young Adult | Fantasy | Magicians
Page extent: 464 pages
Goodreads blurb: 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.
Where Dreams Descend was one of my most anticipated books of the year: the combination of Moulin Rouge x Phantom of the Opera, two of my absolute favourite pieces of media, was so powerful. But ultimately, as lush as this was at times, I hate to admit I was a little bored. It was always going to be a very tough ask to stand up to literally two of my favourite films of all time. But unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be much of a plot for a lot of the book, instead the majority of the book are just detailed descriptions of Kallia’s show. Which was amazing the first time! And the second time! But by the end, I was just a bit underwhelmed because that’s all there was.
Where Dreams Descend follows Kallia, a showgirl magician who is running away from her master, Jack, the owner of the house she performs at. She runs to Glorian, an odd city that seems to hate magic and has forgotten everything about its past. But Glorian is trying to put itself back on the map and so is holding a competition to find a magician to be the star of a circus. Kallia, enters herself and vows to win at all costs, as the only woman in the competition. But Jack isn’t keen on letting her go…
I love a good story about theatre, performance, dance, performing magicians! As a theatre nerd in my school days, the setting of this book was so perfect. Between Kallia’s time as a showgirl with Jack, and then her experiences as a magician, I really enjoyed the lush and detailed prose around these (at least the first few times….) I also liked exploring Glorian, this old dead city with an intriguing layout and lots of old dusty buildings to explore. That is completely my jam. Did I wish we had more of it? Yes. The worldbuilding was limited – it almost felt like having the city forgetting everything about their past was kind of an easy way out to avoid actually having to worldbuild?
When we get to the characters, we have three main players:
- Kallia: a powerful magician and performer who adores the spotlight. I did really appreciate the way Angeles made Kallia so ambitious, even to the detriment of others, as I think that’s a trait we still don’t see much of in female characters. Give us more ambitious female characters, because this was so much fun to see!
- Jack: the mysterious, brooding master. We don’t get much time with Jack and that made me struggle to understand his goals: I still have no idea why he was so obsessed with Kallia because we spent so little time with him.
- Demarco: Demarco felt the most fleshed out to me of these three, and he felt like a much more complex figure. He’s got a secret to hide, a missing sister he’s trying to find, no one knows why he no longer uses magic, so he’s this tense and stressed out figure who really makes sense. I also love how flustered Kallia made him, it was a very cute trait!
The side characters however were my favourites. I particularly liked the grouchy old seamstress who helps out with Kallia’s costumes; Aaros, Kallia’s trusty sidekick, he’s just such a loyal and caring character and I felt he really shone; and Lottie, a journalist and also apparently the only person who can actually get shit done. #TeamLottie
However, the lack of a plot or any resolution to anything is something I really struggled with. For most of the book, it’s just scene after scene of Kallia in her dressing room preparing for a show, Kallia performing in said show, Kallia passing out from magic. And repeat. There needs to have a plot or something that’s driving the story onward. In Where Dreams Descend, odd things are happening with magicians from the competition disappearing and more, but no one cares? Instead everyone brushes past it very quickly and we just have another three chapters focusing on yet another Kallia performance. There was just no point to anything? And so because of the repetitive nature, I just found it quite boring. And I am devastated that I felt this way because I thought I would adore this. We find out nothing about what’s actually happening in the city ever? We eventually meet the villain in the last pages and then it just ends? I assume there will be a second book exploring the “villain”….but I just felt that almost 500 pages of almost nothing but Kallia dancing and performing magic could easily have been edited down and condensed and we could have had more interaction and mystery that engaged with the actual villains who are driving on the plot.
So ultimately this was a disappointment to me. I was so excited for this, it’s pretty much my dream pairing of Moulin Rouge and Phantom of the Opera. And whilst I did initially enjoy the lush, unhurried nature of Kallia’s magic and performance, the lack of a plot and repetitive nature of this book really impacted my enjoyment. But as always, even though I was a little disappointed, you might love it! If you like the sound of very detailed prose, with a focus on magic shows, dance, performance, and a side of mystery, I would definitely recommend you read this one to see for yourself!