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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