Review: The Darkening Dream by Andy Gavin

The Darkening Dream
Andy Gavin

Mascherato Publishing (2011)
382 pages
Adult / Horror / Dark Fantasy

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The Darkening Dream is the chilling new dark fantasy novel by Andy Gavin, creator of Crash Bandicoot and Jak & Daxter.

Even as the modern world pushes the supernatural aside in favor of science and steel, the old ways remain. God, demon, monster, and sorcerer alike plot to regain what was theirs.

1913, Salem, Massachusetts – Sarah Engelmann’s life is full of friends, books, and avoiding the pressure to choose a husband, until an ominous vision and the haunting call of an otherworldly trumpet shake her. When she stumbles across a gruesome corpse, she fears that her vision was more of a premonition. And when she sees the murdered boy moving through the crowd at an amusement park, Sarah is thrust into a dark battle she does not understand.

With the help of Alex, an attractive Greek immigrant who knows a startling amount about the undead, Sarah sets out to uncover the truth. Their quest takes them to the factory mills of Salem, on a midnight boat ride to spy on an eerie coastal lair, and back, unexpectedly, to their own homes. What can Alex’s elderly, vampire-hunting grandfather and Sarah’s own rabbi father tell them? And what do Sarah’s continuing visions reveal?

No less than Gabriel’s Trumpet, the tool that will announce the End of Days, is at stake, and the forces that have banded to recover it include a 900 year-old vampire, a trio of disgruntled Egyptian gods, and a demon-loving Puritan minister. At the center of this swirling cast is Sarah, who must fight a millennia-old battle against unspeakable forces, knowing the ultimate prize might be herself.

When Andy Gavin approached me about reviewing his novel, The Darkening Dream, I was a little weary. A horror novel written by the guy behind Crash Bandicoot? The two just didn’t seem to compute in my head, but The Darkening Dream turned out to be a thrilling adventure with properly horrific monsters and an intricate plot that read as carefully thought out. I hope Gavin forgives me for my initial doubt because he clearly changed my mind about his potential as a novelist.

The Darkening Dream takes place in 1913, though the time period did not have much of an effect on the plot except in lack of technology and forms of transportation. Instead it’s the religious ideals weaved into every bit of the story that influences the decisions and actions of the characters. Normally books with overly religious qualities can become heavy handed to me, but despite the amount of Jewish mythology and elements that are key to the story of Sarah’s journey through this dark world, it never felt like Gavin was beating me in the head with religion and I can’t imagine this book without it. Because of my lack of background in Jewish theology, there were moments where I felt like I might not have been truly getting the full meaning of certain events though it never effected my enjoyment of the story.

Sarah is a teenage girl in Salem, who starts having visions and prophetic dreams days before she and her friends stumble across the body of a teenage boy. Having clearly been sacrificed in some horrifically ritualistic way, it starts them on a journey that has their paths crossing with an ancient vampire working for a shadowy third party, giant men made of bugs and a warlock posing as a Christian priest when he’s not sleeping with demons. Helping Sarah and her friends along on this adventure is Alex, a Greek immigrant, who has a strange amount of knowledge regarding the supernatural and a bad case of amnesia whenever he attempts to think of his deceased parents. Together, he and Sarah navigate a complicated history of violence surround a holy treasure hunt, all while trying to not die or have their friends and family killed.

Both Sarah and Alex are great protagonists, who are confident, willing to make difficult choices and don’t necessarily run directly into danger without thinking of potential consequences. A small love triangle sprouts between Sarah, Alex and Sarah’s long-time friend, Sam, though it didn’t bother me because it took a far backseat to the creepy and darkness of vampire hunting and survival. Sam and his sister Anne provide prospective to the horrors they’re witnessing with Anne reacting like most females in 1913 would – abject fear and cowardice – while Sam tries to remain brave, resourceful and show up this new comer, Alex.  

Magic becomes a key component of this story with both the good and dark sides using it to their advantage. I have to admit that it was incredibly satisfying to see Pastor Parris finally find a match in Sarah’s father. The elements of magic were well thought out and intimately connected to the same theological aspects that the story was built around.

As for our main bad guy, the 900 year old vampire Nasir, he is what a vampire is meant to be. He’s vengeful, violent and a little crazed in achieving his tasks, tearing apart all those who get in his way. I think the scene where Nasir taunts our band of teenage heroes was one of the grossest, most horrifying scenes I have read in a very long time and it fit so well within the constructs Gavin had built to that point. It’s nice to see a vampire that’s truly a vampire – claws, craggy teeth, violent and blood-thirsty, as they should be.

Gavin had the tendency to swap between points of view, though the narration is in the third person. For the most part, this worked fine, but when Sam and Anne’s younger sister becomes the main point of view after not being part of the story much and being in the same room as Sarah and Anne, it took me a few moments to adjust and figure out what had just happened with the change in perspective. While it made sense in the context of the story, the transition wasn’t always the smoothest after spending so much time riding along on Sarah’s shoulder.

But otherwise I have little to complain about The Darkening Dream. The end surprised me despite having figured out a key piece of it early on. The final few pages left me feeling as though I’d just gone through a race alongside Sarah and Alex, while not believing the direction things had turned towards. Gavin has a way of putting together an emotional, alluring story with all the right elements of horror without it becoming bleak. Instead it’s the kind of book that might keep you up at night, but you really don’t mind.

 

Andy Gavin provided me with a copy of this book in return for an honest review and I sincerely thank him for his patience. The blurb and cover image are from GoodReads. If you purchase something via the Amazon link, I receive a small amount to go towards contests. I think that's all my disclosures...