Series: The Chronicles of the Marked #1
Published by Inevah Press on May 3, 2022
Genres: Fiction, Christian, Fantasy, Speculative, Young Adult
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Can she summon the will to do what is necessary, or will she risk all to save a human?
Evie grows restless observing mortals from afar. When a friend offers to smuggle her by portal into the human world, she jumps at the opportunity. Secretly, though, she also hopes to observe Adan, the human Dreamer. Only a glimpse, she promises herself.
But trouble awaits after her captivating adventure and delayed return. Not only did she take an unsanctioned trip to the ground, but now the boy, the Dreamer, is missing, and her director believes she is to blame.
Donning a human body and wielding a golden blade, Evie must return to the human world and find Adan before her way home is sealed. All while wrestling unfamiliar human emotions and a growing suspicion that she’s caught amid a devious plot already in motion.
Sara Watterson’s This Dreamer holds the distinction of being the first independently published novel to win a Christy Award. That alone is a huge accomplishment. While the big publishers have the right to just pay an entry fee, the author of a self-published book has to prove their book has sold at least $2,000 worth of copies in the award year (and pay the entry fee). All that to say for a self-published novel to win a Christy Award the author has to really believe in it, there has to be an audience for it, and then it has to contend with the big guys. It can really be a David vs. Goliath scenario. While there has been a smattering of independently-published titles to be among the award finalists, This Dreamer is the one the broke the glass ceiling and became the first to win.
In her debut novel, Watterson has taken on an enormous challenge. It is incredibly difficult to portray the angelic/demonic in ways that come across as believable. Authors have to make a decision of how imaginative they may allow themselves to be. Where do they keep to what is portrayed in Scripture? Where do they get poetic license? The only person I’ve seen actually do this at a stunning level is Tosca Lee with her debut, Demon: A Memoir. Watterson’s angelic host reads more like Good Omens for a YA crowd, but without the intention of satire or comedy—so take that as a compliment or criticism, whichever you prefer.
Her basic setup felt, to me, like the Gamemakers’ control room in The Hunger Games. It’s the job of the Watchers to look after humanity (though exactly what this entails is never really explicated) and there’s a subset of angels on earth called Guardians, who shepherd humans with have a supernatural gifting (again, not really fully fleshed out). There’s also the small issue of someone called The Deceiver and the chance they might be infecting the different worlds Jesiah (the God figure) has created.
She’s also decided to align her secondary protagonist’s story with the story of Joseph. (He even has brothers named Asher and Ben!) Following the biblical storyline, however loosely, constrains Watterson in some ways and creates certain expectations. Some of these things work well within the story construct, other things seem to only be there to follow the structure of the biblical narrative. In trying to juggle all of these things, This Dreamer sets up a number of interesting concepts in terms of worldbuilding but doesn’t allow them to develop in all their fullness. So much has to be explained and yet so much is left unexplained—though future books in the series might resolve that.
This Dreamer is billed as a Young Adult book. That’s the category for which it won a Christy Award. But, other than the novel’s size, this felt more like a middle grade novel to me in terms of the characters’ ages and actions and the straightforward plotting—with all the expected tropes and narrative beats that come with. We have a Chosen One, people sorted into groups by special abilities, a training montage that includes a tournament-style competition, a game that symbolizes a broader conflict, and a sweet, innocuous quasi-relationship.
In the end, This Dreamer had promise. It’s a fun story and 9-year-old me would have loved it. But older me sees places where it could have been a bit stronger. The best parts of the book were when Evie seemed least like a Watcher and when Adan’s narrative was least like Joseph’s. I truly believe that you had removed the overt attempts to parrot the Joseph storyline, This Dreamer would have improved. But even at the book’s weakest points I wanted to know more, I wanted to keep reading, I wanted to see where the story went. And while this review has been a bit critical, its accolades speak for itself to tell me that I’m in the minority. If this is her debut, Sara Watterson has a strong career ahead of her. I wish her the best.