Straight away, the beginning demands our attention. Calith, with his black, white and orange hair, is being warned off. An older man, quiet, forbidding, whose name is Vayan, wants him to keep away from someone called Ricky. Calith can observe him but no more, even though Ricky has an instinct for the ‘power’.
And at once, we met Ricky. He is at college, but nearly beyond the law. He sees an unlocked car, steals it and is chased by the police. But just as he is about to be caught, he is suddenly snatched into another world. He recognises it as the world of the dreams which have been haunting him. Calith was in these dreams – now he is inside his head and soon he meets him in reality. So begins a strange and original fantasies. Debbie Bennett warns – or assures – us that there are no trolls, dragons or any of the usual trappings of fantasy. The story is entirely to do with human relationships carried to an extreme of intensity. The ‘power’ is to do with dreams and being able to enter them and make them real, both their own and other people’s, to control those people, to – at the extreme – steal their personalities.
Calith comes from a parallel world powered by these dreams. In that world, he lives in Kelrinna, led by Vayan. There is another place, Venn, the master of which is Saxen. Saxen is pale, fair-haired, almost albino. Vayan is dark with a moustache. The light and the dark, opposite poles. The novel is in effect a struggle between them for Calith’s soul. Ricky’s function is almost that of the reader in the book. Because of his humanity he gives a sort of authenticity to this strange world of telepathy, control, seals which are strong yet can be broken: he has the powers and he learns to use them – at the end triumphantly. But, despite their unearthly qualities, the other characters are all too human as well. Their powers are used for mastery, treachery, subterfuge – and loyalty as well. The struggles are carried out with strange, internal weapons. There are ambiguities. Who are we to believe: Saxen or Vayan? Both are plausible. What are Karsh, Shanna, Teris and the others; friends or foes? How can Louise, Ricky’s sister who is suddenly, through Calith, thrust unknowingly into this strange place, be rescued?
The characters hold conviction. Calith, puzzled, torn, slightly out of control, is memorable in his complexity, as is Ricky in his developing understanding and Louise in her mystification at where her attraction to Calith has led her. Vayan and Saxen have themselves an ambiguity which means we are never on safe ground in the story – but in the end we know which is the one worthy of trust. And we find out in a tremendous climax.
A remarkable book. It absorbed me, carried me through a kaleidoscope of impressions and at the end satisfied me deeply.
Reviewed by Dennis Hamley
Edge of Dreams is available in Kindle format
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