by Skyler White, fantasy (2010)
Berkley, $15.00, ISBN 978-0425236951
In Dreams Begin is definitely not something I read every day. In fact, I'd hesitate to call this one a romance novel, because this story breaks all the rules and expectations associated with a romance novel.
Back in the late 1800s, we have two women, Ida Jameson and Maud Gonne. Actress and freedom fighter Maud Gonne in real life was one of more famous women in Irish poet William Butler Yeats's life, and author Skyler White has crafted a story here revolving around Maud Gonne's affair with French politician Lucien Millevoye and her eventual involvement with the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. True to the spiritualism craze that seized the people of that time, this story wants me to know that Will isn't in love with Maud as much as he is in love with Laura Armstrong, a woman from the present day who is accidentally transported into Maud's body during a seance held by Ida.
The story takes place over a great number of years, following the messy relationships between Ida, Maud, Will, Laura, and Laura's present day husband Amit. Yes, I suppose Laura's affair with Will while she is married to Amit can be constituted as adultery, but still, Laura is convinced most of the time that she's only dreaming. Really, though, don't judge this book by the rules of the romance genre just because the packaging suggests that this is a conventional romantic urban fantasy romp. It isn't that kind of story.
In Dreams Begin is a beautifully written story steep in gorgeous and lush atmosphere and scenery. The time period just comes alive in this story. There are many moments when I can certainly identify with Laura in the sense that I, too, am a tourist on this vicarious journey and I am definitely enjoying the scenery. The author also uses Will's poetry to great effect here, showcasing the lushly romantic and even erotic wordsmith of that man. This story is dark and erotic, not because of the number of sex scenes present but because of Ms White's lush and gorgeous narrative.
The story is definitely not a clichéd one, but unfortunately, it quickly loses momentum by the halfway point and doesn't really recover from the loss by the last page. The problem here is that Will supposedly falls in love with Laura at first sight and this love stays strong throughout the years. But I don't understand why Will is in love with Laura. He talks prettily about seeing the brightness in her soul or other poetic foo. I don't know. Maybe I'm just too cynical, but I need more reason to believe that such a love is real and bunny foo about eyes and souls don't cut it with me. As for Laura, I find it hard to figure her out. She happily sleeps with Will without much regard for Amit, to the point that I can only wonder which man she really loves. In the end, it probably doesn't matter which man she loves, because the story is all about her. Going back in time to shag an Irish poet, without much thought given about how her actions can drastically change the past, is Laura's personal eat, pray, and love. It's all about getting her groove back and eating the cake without worrying about the calories, that kind of thing.
As for Ida, she starts out as a sympathetic villain, but as the story progresses, she mutates quickly into a cartoon villain. She gets away with her nonsense because Will and Maud are selfish enough to keep her around in order to get what they want from her - Ida is a user who isn't even discreet about it, but the other two use her as much as she uses them. Poor Ida is the only one who pays dearly for her selfishness, however. Still, as much as Ida deserves her fate, I also feel that Maud and Will get away too easily for abetting Ida in her nonsense for so long.
There are quite a number of erotic scenes in this book, but being that they are soaked in the delightful taint of sleaze or adultery, I don't find them particularly erotic. These scenes serve only as harbingers of things spiraling out of control, and indeed, things tend to go awfully wrong once the fun is over.
In Dreams Begin isn't a particularly joyous or light read, but that's okay, because this story is an interesting and different kind of story. Even if I don't warm up to the characters and I think these people are confusing lust with true love, reading the story has been a most interesting journey. So while I can't give this book a higher score, I'd still recommend this book to people who are looking for something different and well-written to read. The payoff may not be good, but getting there is one heck of a ride no matter what.
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