Author: Janella Angeles
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Published: August 2020
For Those Who Enjoyed: Moulin Rouge, Phantom of the Opera, The Night Circus, Laura Lam’s Pantomime, Big Fish, The Greatest Showman
Surprise! It has been a while since I posted any reviews, I know. But in light of the pandemic limiting both library access and authors’ marketing, I thought it only appropriate that I dip back into my Netgalley account and do my duties as a reader.
I was lucky enough to snag an early review copy of Where Dreams Descend from the publisher. I will say right off the bat this means the copy I received was an unedited one, and thus some of the things I had issues with may have been fixed by the time the official edition is released.
I was extremely excited about this one the minute I saw it pitched as a Moulin Rouge x Phantom of the Opera crossover event, as Moulin Rouge is one of my favourite films of all time. So impactful was this pitch, when I went looking for it later, having completely forgotten the title, I found it within seconds of googling the original comp titles. This is why the comp title system works! It goes without saying that this was therefore one of my most anticipated new releases of 2020, so it had a lot to live up to.
This book started strong. It totes itself as a Moulin Rouge retelling, in a Victorian setting, featuring an all-female circus, which is immediate catnip for me. It’s got an antagonist reminiscent of Erik in Phantom of the Opera, with plenty original things going for him that sets him apart in an intriguing way. Phantom is such a hard story to adapt and adapt well, and I think this is the first time I’ve seen it done recently with an interesting twist. Our protagonist, Kallia serves as our Satine equivalent, if instead of dying of consumption, she finally chased her dreams of becoming a star and joined the circus. She’s ambitious and self-confident to a fault, which sets her apart from a lot of female YA protagonists out there. There’s something refreshing about how unapologetic she is about her talents, and knowing she’s better than everyone else.
While this sets her apart from a lot of tropey YA protagonists, the narrative itself doesn’t quite do the work to push her to the top. She’s the best performer in the magic competition she’s been thrown into simply because Angeles doesn’t ever flesh out any of her other competitors, only telling us that they’re complacent and unwilling to innovate their acts. This is the biggest flaw in the narrative, as it gives Kallia a free pass; the reader automatically expects her to succeed because no one else seems to pose a threat. With her cockiness, there’s got to be a downfall for her somewhere, and Angeles is smart to deliver on that level through the depiction of a patriarchal town that looks down upon female magicians. More than that though, she’s afraid of the dark forces coming for her, and she’s learning throughout her arc how to overcome her fear, and not to struggle through them alone.
This novel definitely suffers from some pacing issues, ones I hope get flattened out in the final edit. There is a mystery afoot in the centre of this plot, and yet none of the characters seem at all interested in unravelling it until a scrappy reporter breezes into town to stir up trouble 3/4ths of the way through. This is an odd trend I’ve been seeing in YA as of late, where a murder mystery is introduced at least halfway through after a ton of seemingly unnecessary exposition. The tension behind the mystery could have been further developed had all the disappearances, injuries, and murders had happened on stage rather than off the page completely. The reader is given no sense of how many competitors there are, or who are the frontrunners, because Angeles never gives a face to the names.
On a whole, I wanted to love it, but there was just some clunkiness in the writing that just didn’t work for me. I do encourage people to pick this book up though, especially because I feel like a fully edited copy might be a lot tighter written.