There has been an endless procession of work from brilliant new paranormal fantasy authors hitting the bookshelves over the past few years. Every month seems to bring yet another wunderkind fictionist to the shelves – Seanan McGuire, Nicole Peeler, Jaye Wells, Marcus Pelegrimas, Kelly Meding, Sonya Bateman, Devon Monk, the list goes on and on… And arguably the most unforgettable of them all is Skyler White, whose debut novel and Falling, Fly – released in March of 2010 – literally had me standing up and applauding.
In my review for BarnesandNoble.com, I described and Falling, Fly as “an intensely passionate, sublimely poetic, soul-rending work of art… Skyler White’s extraordinary debut is so much more than a paranormal fantasy – it’s literary fiction, it’s otherworldly poetry, it’s dark philosophy that will change the way you see the world if you let it…”
But what made and Falling, Fly such a remarkable novel also made it unpalatable to many mainstream readers. It wasn’t a passive read – that is, readers couldn’t just consume it mindlessly like fast food. It was a thematically deep novel that actually required thought. A lot of paranormal fantasy is literally escapism that is aimed at readers looking for a light, fast paced supernatural romp replete with Chippendale vampires, sexually adventurous heroines, sitcom humor, etc. Skyler White’s debut novel was the polar opposite of this – and that’s one of the reasons why I loved it.
So when I heard that she was releasing a second novel – a standalone story not directly connected to and Falling, Fly – I knew that I had to read it.
But before I get into my review of In Dreams Begin, I want to commend White for a few (what I feel are significant) things:
• In a genre that is quickly gathering more than a few tiresome clichés, I extol an author who has the courage to write a novel that doesn’t embrace any of them. Bravo!
• In a genre plainly dominated by shelf-bending sagas, I applaud a new author who has the intestinal fortitude to publish a novel and follow it up with an unrelated novel. Skyler White is such a writer – I remember the “olden days” when many of the genre fiction giants (Clarke, Dick, Crichton, Matheson, etc.) explored new stories in almost every work and readers were constantly surprised by their releases. Sadly, those days are gone – and if authors write a commercially successful novel, chances are good that publishers, agents, fan pressure, etc. will compel them to write sequel after sequel after sequel until that storyline (and its legacy) is ridden into the ground.
While Yeats desperately tries to find a way to channel Laura back to Victorian Ireland, Maud’s devious friend Ida has plans of her own – channeling a demon she thinks she loves into the body of an unsuspecting man...
The intensity and purity and depth of the connection between Laura and Yeats is simply magnificent. This is romance – and potential tragedy – on the level of Romeo and Juliet. At one point, Yeats asks Laura – while inhabiting the body of Maud – if this life is real to her to which she replies: “It’s more than real.” I loved that line.
The philosophical speculation throughout this story is fantastic. Here are just a few examples:
“What if, for some people, the future resonates more than the past, dreamers to whom possibility can whisper loud as memory? Why do our eyes automatically look back? The past is a landscape we love to retrace, but the future is vast as the sky, patternless, and as lonely. Still, we give preference to What Has Been when What Might Be has all the power. We retread the narrow, leafy, night-shadowed roads we know rather than look into the pathless, star-crowded sky of possibility, and we beg for promises as talismans against the hollow pain of doubt, when the only thing we know for certain is that we can poorly predict and are powerless to change what is coming.”
“Love is a sacrifice. Of dignity, mayhap, but not of self. It expands the self.”
And the sex… wow. At some points, the narrative is so hot readers will need oven mitts to get through it. But this isn't mindless porn, it's dark eroticism at its very best:
“Stay with me,” I tell him, and wrap his slowing thighs with my legs. I twine my arms across his broad back to pull him down over me, under me, and say his name again. There is no space between our bodies now… Our voices mingle in a harsh pant of wordless dissolution into something new. We are becoming what we share, what we feel. An experience. A memory. The vortexing spirals of pleasure flood from my swollen, open, panting mouth to my folded, arching pointing toes… Our locked eyes are an anarchy of rough revelation.”
Like White’s debut novel, In Dreams Begin is a singularly unique work of art. With chapter titles that reference Yeats poems (“Love Has Pitched His Mansion in the Place of Excrement,” “They But Thrust Their Buried Men Back In the Human Mind Again,” etc.) and a cast of peripheral characters that include historical figures like Aleister Crowley, Lucien Millevoye and Olivia Shakespear, this novel should appeal to aficionados of historical fiction and dark fantasy fans alike. And let’s not forget the obvious: this is an almighty romance about a love so powerful it transcends time. This storyline should more than satisfy adventurous romance readers. The inscription carved on the outside wall of the tower at Thoor Ballylee, a 16th-century Irish castellated tower house Yeats owned and lived in – and also the setting for the novel’s climactic conclusion – says it all:
“May these characters remain/When all is ruin once again.”
Paul Goat Allen has been a full-time book reviewer specializing in genre fiction for almost the last two decades and has written more than 6,000 reviews for companies like Publishers Weekly, The Chicago Tribune, and BarnesandNoble.com. In his free time, he reads.