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Jenny Jones
      Stephen Bowkett
Orion Dolphin, 117 pages
      Orion Dolphin, 117 pages

Jenny Jones
Jenny Jones is the author a several novels including Fly by Night (1990), The Edge of Vengeance (1991), Lies and Flames (1992), The Webbed Hand (1994), The Blue Manor (1995), Firefly Dreams (1995), The House of Birds (1996) and The Carver (1997).

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A review by Neil Walsh

Dolphin is Orion Publishing Group's Young Adult (YA) imprint. The Web was a well-received series from Dolphin, in which many different authors wrote original stories around the concept of virtual reality. The ultimate aim was to expose a younger audience to the joys of SF.

And now, it's time to bring the younger generation over to the Dark Side...

Dreamtime, like The Web, is a series of stories from various authors, each one based on an overall unified concept. This time, though, the genre is dark fantasy. The initial plans are for six short novels, each detailing the efforts of the Shadowman -- a sort of disgruntled Morpheus figure -- to extend his nefarious reach from the realm of dream into the waking reality. Behind the contemporary setting of each book is the influence of the myths and legends of the applicable culture -- Nordic, Greek, Polynesian, Native American, etc.

Shadowsong by Jenny Jones

Gilly is a teenage girl of many talents in a small town along the Welsh border. She has been cast in the role of Eurydice in her school's upcoming production of The Legend of Orpheus, to be done in mask. (For those who haven't clued in yet, we're now dealing with ancient Greek mythology.) When Gilly loses her mask in the river, Mr Wyatt, the eccentric and mysterious new drama teacher, informs her that it was a very expensive piece from his own private collection. Gilly is unable to pay for it and, being reluctant to ask her mother for the large sum, she agrees to repay Mr Wyatt by painting a mural on the wall of his new cottage.

Actually, it's an old cottage; it's only new to Mr Wyatt. He lives alone there. Gilly doesn't want her mother or her mother's new boyfriend to know what she's doing after school, so she doesn't tell them about painting the mural for Mr Wyatt. Oddly enough, Gilly doesn't see anything wrong with spending her evenings in the home of her teacher who lives in an isolated cottage, just on the edge of town. Thankfully, however, other people do find it a little disconcerting. Richard, a fellow student who is composing the music for the play, prefers to accompany Gilly so they can work on the music together while she paints. And thank goodness he does...

Meanwhile, Gilly finds pressures are mounting. Her mother is getting serious with the new boyfriend, whom Gilly resents; Richard is pressuring her to spend more time learning the words and music for the play; Richard's girlfriend is jealous of the time Gilly spends with Richard; rehearsals for the play are becoming more intense; and Mr Wyatt now wants the mural done even sooner, allegedly for a party he has planned for the end of the week. And if this all isn't enough, things a little out of the ordinary are beginning to happen in connection with both Richard's music and the mural Gilly is painting. Small things, at first. And then, by the time Gilly realizes it's more than just her mind playing tricks on her, the weirdness has taken on a life of its own and is completely out of control.

Shadowsong is perhaps more likely to appeal to a female audience, who would probably identify more readily with Gilly and her problems, particularly in the earlier portion of the book. The story is well-crafted with an exciting, surreal climax. There are some wonderful moments, such as when Gilly's mask is floating on the river, and the wind whistling through the hollows causes an eerie wailing, reminiscent of the severed head of Orpheus which, according to myth, continued singing as it drifted down the river. There are echoes of Greek myth throughout the story, but they are often so subtle that it's also possible to read the whole thing through without realizing there's more than a passing connection to ancient Greek culture.

The resolution, although credible enough in its fantastical aspect, is perhaps too pat with regard to the mundane affairs. The pieces of Gilly's life fall so smoothly and easily into place at the end that it seems Sarah (Richard's girlfriend) was correct at the outset: Gilly has all the advantages. Sure must be nice to be so nearly perfect.

In some ways, this was probably the most difficult book in the series to write, because it's the first one to offer a good look at the Shadowman, at his existence, at his motivation. I felt that the passages dealing with the Shadowman and his servant, although perhaps necessary for the plot, read a little too much like a depiction of a comic-book villain -- all evil; no substance. But then, that may be precisely what the author was aiming for in her portrayal of the Lord of Nightmares.


Stephen Bowkett
Stephen Bowkett's other novels include Dualists (1987), Gameplayers (1988), The Community (1993), Dinosaur Day (1996) and Meditations For Busy People (1996).

ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
Dreamcatcher by Stephen Bowkett

If Shadowsong is something of a girls' book, Dreamcatcher is more likely to appeal to the boys. The main character, John, is a runaway rich kid who has hooked up with a young street survivor named Dodge. Together, this pair have a good thing going in a quiet midwestern American city: John distracts the mark, whose pocket is picked by Dodge. They split the money, and walk away happy, never to see the mark again. Or so they hope.

But when one pickpocket victim finds John and Dodge again, they are forced to flee, eventually finding refuge in what appears to be an abandoned factory. But it's not abandoned. There's a community of people living in there, enjoying a peaceful existence of storytelling and making crafts. They specialize in making dreamcatchers, woven circles of leather and beads and feathers, claimed by the indigenous peoples to catch bad dreams so that they'll burn up with the rising of the sun.

Soon enough, John begins to wonder where, in the middle of the city, are these people getting all this buckskin and eagle feathers, and the hickory wood they burn to keep warm? Dodge, a naturally light sleeper, notices there is an unusual amount of activity throughout the night, with people coming and going at all hours. Curious, John and Dodge decide to follow. And what they discover is quite disturbing: the boarded up old factory has only one entrance and many exits; one exit for each person who enters. And each exit leads to one person's dream.

This, too, is a good story. It begins with excitement and action and moves into a deeper mystery, with chilling moments of revelation and wonder. And, again, I found the conclusion to be too happy for its own good. Everything is tied up a little too neatly for my taste, although the dénouement is so brief that this can almost be forgiven, particularly after the heart-racing climax in which our heroes battle the Shadowman in his own realm.

The cultural element is less evident in Dreamcatcher. There is a suggestion that the mysterious building may be on the site of what was once Native American holy ground, but the only real connection seems to be the interest Jennifer, the leader of the group, has in such matters -- her dream of the land the way it would have been before the arrival of the Europeans. The stories Jennifer tells to the other squatters living in the factory are often enigmatic. I can't vouch for their authenticity as Native American parables, but they have a definite feel of the Zen koan, lending a certain level of thoughtfulness to the book, because the answers aren't always provided.

Shadowsong and/or Dreamcatcher would provide a young reader with a good introduction to dark fantasy. Together they make a promising beginning to the Dreamtime series.

Copyright © 2000 by Neil Walsh

Neil Walsh is the Reviews Editor for the SF Site. He lives in contentment, surrounded by books, in Ottawa, Canada.

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