Review: Dreaming Death by J. Kathleen Cheney

Dreaming Death by J. Kathleen CheneyDreaming Death by J. Kathleen Cheney (Palace of Dreams #1)

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Roc on February 2, 2016

Source: Library
Rating StarRating StarRating StarRating Star

Shironne Anjir’s status as a sensitive is both a gift and a curse.

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I read this book as part of the A-Z Diverse Readathon, which was a ton of fun and helped give me that extra push to complete some diverse books I’d been meaning to read for a while!

DREAMING DEATH introduces a rich, complex world filled with people from many cultures and practicing many religions, and a city where the Palace and the Army function as two distinct bodies that represent two cultures. An in between it all are the sensitives, people whose magic gifts them with the psychic ability to experience other people’s emotions. The stronger the sensitive, the more they’re affected by the feelings of those around them.

Shironne Anjir is one such sensitive – actually, she might be the most powerful sensitive the city has seen in centuries. Shironne’s gift is so strong that when it first fully manifested, the sensory overload caused her to go blind. Her blindness is, in my opinion, portrayed very even-handedly: there are some things that Shironne can’t easily do and she occasionally becomes frustrated, but her unique way of experiencing the world also gives her certain advantages that others don’t have. Using her extreme sensitivity, Shironne can perceive minute details on objects – like traces of dirt from a specific region or the scent of the smoke from a specific herb – that no one else could possibly detect. This ability has earned the seventeen year-old a consultancy position with the Army, working with military investigators to solve various crimes…including a recent string of disturbing ritual murders.

At the Palace, another very strong sensitive named Mikael Lee is also working to solve the murders – before he himself is killed. Mikael’s gift is really more of a curse: he dreams deaths, experiencing what the dying person does in his dreams. Recently, Mikael has started to bear the marks of these dreams in severe injuries and crippling headaches; if he doesn’t get control of his power and catch the killer, one day soon Mikael’s dreaming will mean his own death.

Of course, Shironne and Mikael end up working together when the Army and the Palace realize they must consolidate their forces to prevent more murders. Personally, I thought it was pretty obvious who was ultimately involved and I was shocked that it took so long for everyone else to catch up, but I digress. Shironne and Mikael’s powers are clearly linked somehow, so their easy friendship and teasing banter hardly comes as a surprise. These two are in many ways outcasts in their own communities, and their kindred spirits come as a great comfort to them both. While nothing overtly romantic happens in DREAMING DEATH, I would be legitimately shocked if these two don’t fall in love by the end of the series. Calling it now!

J. Kathleen Cheney’s world building is fantastic, bringing to life an astoundingly detailed universe without being too overwhelming. She also does an admirable job of introducing a very large cast of characters – Shironne and Mikael are merely two of the POV characters – and ensuring that they’re all unique. DREAMING DEATH is also an excellent pick for those looking for more diversity in fantasy and science fiction, as it’s the only novel in either genre I’ve read that features a blind protagonist.

Unfortunately, this book does start off rather slow and suffers from some pacing problems throughout, but personally these issues didn’t negatively impact my enjoyment of the story. Highly recommended for readers looking for a thoughtful, richly detailed, and slower-paced fantasy novel.

Have you read any SFF books featuring blind or otherwise differently abled protagonists? Do you plan to read DREAMING DEATH? Let me know in the comments!

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  • I had to check, but yes I read a fantasy romance with a blind heroine once, it was sooo good 😀

    • Wait, really?! Do you remember the title? Because I love fantasy romance novels, and I’m really interested in reading about more blind protagonists!

  • How interesting that she is a blind heroine. And I especially liked that her blindness is handled well. I love the sound of the world too. It’s a shame about the pacing being off, but I’m glad it didn’t take away from your enjoyment.
    Lovely review!
    I’ll have to add this to my TBR.

    • I think I would’ve been very uncomfortable had Shironne’s blindness translated into her being dependent on others or weak-willed in some way, so I’m also glad it was done well! 🙂

      Yay! I’ll keep an eye out for your thoughts on this one if you get a chance to review it.

  • Glad you enjoyed this one. It does start off a little slow, with a ton of character names to learn, but I ended up loving it. Cheney did a great job building a gorgeous, rich world!

    • Oh yeah, some of the character names tripped me up at first (especially the ones of the men in the military) but thankfully i was able to follow who was who.

      I know you enjoyed her other series – which as far as I know is also a fantasy with a minor romance plot – and I really want to check that one out now. Cheney’s writing style is definitely my cup of tea!

  • Pretty cool that the protagonist’s blindness is treated in a very even way. I think a lot of fiction has the tendency to portray blindness in a very unrealistic way (e.g., Daredevil, many ‘blind martial arts master’ characters).

    I really enjoyed reading ‘Half a King,’ since the protagonist has an underdeveloped limb, and the way that he navigates the story feels pretty realistic in regards to that.

    • Oh my god…the way that Daredevil handles blindness (and about ten other issues as well, haha) really frustrates me. It’s one of the major reasons why I couldn’t bring myself to continue watching the show.

      That one’s been on my list for ages, I really need to make time to read it!

  • Lisa (@TenaciousReader)

    Oh, a blind protagonist sounds really intriguing!

    • Doesn’t it? I’m shocked that it didn’t generate more buzz when it first came out, but I guess the marketing was pretty low-key. Definitely a recommended read from me!

  • wow – never heard of this one before. Thanks for putting it on my radar – it sounds like my kind of read. Love that the protagonist is blind!

    • You’re very welcome, Sarah! That’s the joy of blogging: getting book recs for titles we’ve never come across before. 🙂

  • Lynn Williams

    I have read a book with a blind protagonist but I’m struggling to remember the name and author! I must go away and think about it. Check my list. Off the top of my head it was sci fi and I think the young girl in question was going through a radical procedure to try and give her some limited vision using some sort of computer software.
    Lynn 😀

    • Oh man, well if you ever do remember the author or title, please let me know! I’m usually not very big on sci-fi (as the obvious lack of sci-fi titles on my blog would suggest…haha) but that description makes the book sound right up my alley.

  • Jan

    I read this a few months ago and thought it was very good. I thought the world building was so good and like you I thought the author did a great job portraying Shirronne. I thought the reason she was blind was believable. Good review, Danya!

    • Thanks Jan! I’d been wanting to read it for ages, so I’m glad I was able to make time for it. Cheney’s world building was fantastic, I can’t wait to learn more about the magic system she’s created!

      I think I’m going to go back and read Cheney’s first trilogy now, too. From what I can recall it’s about sirens living off the coast of Portugal, I think. Or maybe Spain.

  • This sounds amazing, and I have not read any books with blind protagonists. I am definitely going to check it out, great review!!

    • It was fantastic! Definitely need to read J. Kathleen Cheney’s backlist titles now. Plus I’m really interested in reading about more blind protagonists, too!

  • I am SO HAPPY you liked this – IT SOUNDED AMAZING when you had it listed for AZDiverse and now I’m sold. The idea of reading from a blind protagonist’s perspective in a fantasy setting sounds so unbelievably perfect! Another slow burn read sounds perfectly fine seeing as the world would be so different and original!
    Great review, and I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy