Thank you to Netgalley and Wednesday Books for the ARC. All opinions expressed are my own.
Title: Where Dreams Descend
Author: Janella Angeles
Publication Date: August 25th, 2020
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Age Range: YA
Content warnings: emotional abuse, manipulation
Synopsis: In a city covered in ice and ruin, a group of magicians face off in a daring game of magical feats to find the next headliner of the Conquering Circus, only to find themselves under the threat of an unseen danger striking behind the scenes.
As each act becomes more and more risky and the number of missing magicians piles up, three are forced to reckon with their secrets before the darkness comes for them next.
The Star: Kallia, a powerful showgirl out to prove she’s the best no matter the cost
The Master: Jack, the enigmatic keeper of the club, and more than one lie told
The Magician: Demarco, the brooding judge with a dark past he can no longer hide
Well folks, you can’t win ’em all. As much as I wanted to love Where Dreams Descend and as much as I did enjoy various elements of the book, I was inevitably left wanting more, and no one is more disappointed by this than me.
The Characters: The Devil, the Daring Demarco, and the Dazzling Kallia
I have to say that despite not totally loving the plot or pacing in Where Dreams Descend, I really did love all of the characters. Our star Kallia is everything I love in a protagonist. I love her boldness, her confidence, her ambition. I love that she knows that she is capable of greatness and won’t let anyone or anything prevent her from being recognized as the fantastically talented and powerful magician she is. While the other magicians competing in Spectaculore struggle to put together awe-inspiring acts, Kallia has a natural flare that she can easily back up with the raw power afforded to her as a born magician. As much as other people might try to bring her down, Kallia always manages to keep her chin up and show them exactly what she can do to prove that they are wrong about her. Indomitable as she might be, though, Kallia also has moments of vulnerability and immense loneliness as she comes to terms with the trauma and abuse she escaped from, and that balance is what makes her human.
The Master, Jack, is one of the characters that I personally found the most fascinating. You can tell that Jack genuinely cares about Kallia and does what he thinks is his best by her, but he’s not past using manipulative tricks in order to keep her by his side. There’s an air of mystery surrounding Jack, which he wholeheartedly encourages and maintains however he can. I ended up with far more questions about Jack than I had answers, and I’m looking forward to learning more about just who he is and what his background is in the sequel.
From the start, there’s an unmistakable connection between Kallia and Daron Demarco, one of the judges in Spectaculore. A former stage magician himself, Demarco has more to teach Kallia than either of them initially realize. Aside from her assistant Aaros, Demarco is the first person to give Kallia a chance once she gets to Glorian, and try as they might to resist the lure they feel towards each other, Kallia and Demarco find themselves brought together by fate more than once. There’s an irresistible push and pull between them, but there’s a shared stubbornness that made me go oh my god, just make out already! every time one of them was being particularly obtuse.
The Plot: The Great Vanishing Act
Unfortunately, I did not love the plot as much as I loved the characters. Normally this isn’t much of an issue for me, as I tend to enjoy character-driven books over plot-driven ones, but the issues I had with the plot seeped into the personalities of the characters and their interactions enough that I couldn’t overlook them.
The bulk of the book centers around Spectaculore, the competition between magicians to determine who will be the next headliner of the Conquering Circus. The competition takes place in the mysterious town of Glorian, which has inspired multiple conspiracy theories and rumors throughout the years. I think I would have enjoyed Where Dreams Descend more if either of these aspects had been explored further. Much like Jack, who is undeniably our Phantom in this book, I was left without answers about Glorian and the other peculiar forces that interfere with Spectaculore.
Multiple mysteries take place simultaneously throughout the book, but none of them are fully or even halfway answered, which I think is where the problem lies. The plot picks up pretty early on in the book as Kallia embarks on her journey to Glorian, but her time there passes somewhat slowly and uneventfully, with the intrigue coming from the looming dangers rather than the competition itself. The majority of the book is spent on developing the relationships between the characters while hinting at their individual motivations and desires, which is normally something I love and actively look for in books. However, there are so many different plot points that are initially fleshed out that I felt like some of that time should have been spent on world-building instead. Reminiscent of Kallia’s acts for the competition, Where Dreams Descend is spectacular from the audience, but drains a lot of its own energy in dazzling the senses.
Reasons to recommend Where Dreams Descend
Much like an actual stage production, the supporting characters are just as important to the success of the show as the stars themselves. The members of the Conquering Circus are a family through and through, and they readily claim Kallia as one of their own. They show up for her time and time again and keep her grounded and motivated. Kallia’s assistant, Aaros, is also essential in helping Kallia understand that she does not have to get through the competition alone. Lighthearted on the surface, Aaros demonstrates a deep understanding of what Kallia is feeling and going through, even if the two don’t actually talk about it on page. He believes in her and defends her when no one else will, and they form an unlikely friendship that surpasses the bounds of their on-stage partnership.
And then, of course, there’s Kallia herself. There is no ignoring the blatant sexism and misogyny that Kallia faces once she gets to Glorian, and she quickly learns that hers is not an isolated case. And although Kallia has allies and friends who are willing to help fight her battles with her, Kallia refuses to back down and make herself small in order to fit these men’s standards. She fights her own battles because that’s just who she is, not because she is alone in her fight, and that’s something I absolutely loved. Kallia finds a unique sense of camaraderie with the women in the Conquering Circus because they know exactly what it is like to be a female magician in a male-dominated world, and rather than envying Kallia’s opportunity to compete in Spectaculore, these other magicians readily cheer her on and come to her side during her times of need.
Where Dreams Descend might not be the book I was expecting, but it is undeniably beautiful and intriguing. I’m extremely curious about what will happen next, and how the subsequent acts will follow what we see in the first show. There is some truly gorgeous prose, and there’s no denying that Janella Angeles is a performer and artist in her own right. I would honestly love to see a film adaptation of Where Dreams Descend, because I really do believe it would be a sight to behold.
Links for Where Dreams Descend
Have you read Where Dreams Descend yet? Will you be picking up a copy?
I’d love to know your thoughts!