CM . . . . Volume XV Number 21. . . .June 12, 2009.
Winnipeg, MB: Great Plains, 2009.
190 pp., pbk., $14.95.
Grades 5-9 / Ages 10-14.
Review by Janet Johnson.
Again, her lips didn’t move, but I heard her speech clearly inside my head. The wulfdraigles are watching…” She repeated the last words she’d ever said to me and vanished.
I woke up very cold and afraid to move. I listened to Suzy’s even breathing across the room and tried not to wake her with my own gasps. It was just a dream, I told myself, that’s all. And dreams were distorted. After all, following my black widow dream there hadn’t been a spider diagram, and I hadn’t flunked the test.
When my bedroom door was pushed open, I came very near to screaming and was quite glad I hadn’t when I saw who it was. Lissa. Her long brown hair was tousled, and she looked sleepy. She climbed into my lap, put her thin arms around my neck and hugged me. “Lissa,” I whispered, “What are doing up?”
She giggled, her elf smile popping up. “S’okay, Brianne, I won’t let them hurt you. Not ever.”
Dreamfire is a supernatural mystery set in a Canadian prairie town called Grantmere, a nondescript setting that could easily describe most small towns in a western province. Its sparing description ensures that no regional tone will limit interest in the story. Furthermore, credence in the events of the story is enhanced by the use of the heroine’s voice, the voice of a teenage girl in a high school classroom. Now, firmly grounded in mundane everyday reality, the reader is about to begin a roller coaster ride in a skillfully created experience in horror.
The story begins in a high school class, in broad daylight, with the apparition or hallucination of a black widow spider that rises out from the ink on a page of a text. Brianne, the heroine, is the only person in her class who can see the black widow spider which eerily grows as large as a horse when attached by a stool. When Brianne throws the lab stool, she faints only to come around to consciousness sprawled on the science lab room floor and mortified by the display she has made of herself. A fellow student, Ben, tells her she had fallen to asleep in class and fell off her stool. Right away, in the first chapter, we learn that she, Brianne, has nightmares.
Besides Brianne, the story’s heroine, readers are introduced to two other important characters: kind Ben Harper who befriends Brianne and who has a mysterious and tragic history of his own, and Rex Tremont, a jokester who exhibits a cruel and bullying personality. Other significant characters include Brianne’s two younger sisters, eight-year-old Lissa and boy crazy Suzy, and Sir Jeremy, a sinister old man for whom Rex seems to be the caretaker.
All the characters in the story are realistically portrayed and convincing in their parts, except for Sir Jeremy who is mysterious from the start. Lissa, it appears, is able to read Brianne’s thoughts and to comfort her in times of stress, much in the manner that the children in the television series Medium startle the audience with their growing psychic abilities. Slowly, from thorough clues and dialogue, readers discover that Brianne has the psychic ability of being able to dream of events before they happen. So far, this “gift” has done nothing but harm to her family as it was instrumental in events that affected their lives in Edmonton and caused them to move to Grantmere in the first place. Brianne, feeling guilty over causing so much trouble for her family, is really upset at having more dreams. Young adults will relate wanting to fit in with your peers and to not making yourself into someone who stands out as a troublemaker.
The story moves along at a fast pace, and, before long, readers learn about the murder of Brianne’s Aunt Elise, someone of whom Brianne was very fond, and the car accident that killed Ben’s brother. In time, readers learn how these two incidents are related.
The horror in Dreamfire is an imaginative creature called the “wulfdraigle,” an ice age creature much like a wolf that killed men and found refuge in a dream dimension either through ritual or dreaming and which now lived on fear and pain from the human world. Whether the “wulfdraigle” was ever a mythical monster, I was unable to find out, but it is an effectively scary creature that takes away the surety of the safety of a good night’s sleep. The “wulfrdraigle” had been using Brianne’s Aunt Elise as a conduit to the nightmares of the people in the village until she killed herself. Now, the “wulfrdraigle” wanted to use Brianne. Horrible, out of control events happened to people who refused to comply with the “wulfdraigle” and, when Brianne refuses, the entire town of Grantmere is threatened with destruction.
If the sign of quality for a book of horror is consistency in setting, plot, characterization, and style and skill in creating the slow build up of suspense, Dreamfire is a good read, and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys this genre. Definitely, appropriate for the young teenage group as the characters are all teens, and the parents play ineffective roles in the family and the lives of the main characters.
A good horror fantasy will return the reader to safety and home with good triumphing over evil, but the experience of reading the story will have been as thrilling as a roller coaster ride. There is no inappropriate violence in this book. The fearful apparition is conquered by the time the story ends while the reader is reassured that the evil will not return. As our heroine states, “I had dreamed it was my last dream, and my dreams always came true.”
Janet Johnson, a former children’s librarian, is an instructor in the Library Technician’s program at Red River College in Winnipeg, MB.
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