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A Shadow of a Dream

A Shadow of a Dream - Isabella Carter

3-3.5 stars. A fun fantasy mystery with some very enjoyable characters, but with a somewhat confusing plot.

The story focuses on Basil, who is part of a police force called The Order that solves mysteries and crimes related to supernatural beings (like witches, mages, fae, etc.) Being supernatural is pretty bad in this world, and Basil is forced to hide his own latent abilities while he works cases, otherwise he might join the criminals in the Order’s prison catacombs. Complicating things is a shadowy thief who finds Basil completely fascinating, and takes it upon himself to “call dibs” on Basil and connect them both through a magical mind-bond. Not having asked for this “gift,” Basil is less than enthused...at first.

 

What I liked: I dug the characters a lot--both Basil and his flamboyant thief courter Cheshire. They have fun chemistry, and I did like seeing tightly-contained Basil loosen up a little due to Cheshire’s shameless and determined flirting.

(I'm also a SUCKER for a mind-bond trope. LOVE IT-GIMME MORE. So, I totally dug that twist.)

Like Carter’s other book, Dragon Slayer, it’s also a fun read in a light fantasy setting. Reading it, I definitely got a vibe that was similar to Megan Derr’s very enjoyable Dance with the Devil series. Not that their identical, not at all, but they have a similar tone, so I can see those who like Dance with the Devil could probably transition pretty easily to this world.

What was harder for me: I really enjoyed the beginning, and I didn’t mind that Carter’s style was to throw you into the pool. (There isn’t tons of explanation or background. I don't mind that usually--it keeps the pace up and keeps you guessing.) But I’ll be honest and say that I got pretty confused as one mystery shifted into another, and I wasn’t always understanding what was going on or why.

The story also was a serial fiction, which you can feel in its somewhat episodic nature. I think there might have needed to be a really strong content edit after the serial was finished because it didn’t feel very smooth as a novel. There were also some continuity errors that added to the confusion. (One example that I can remember is Basil’s disappearing guns near the end of the book. He has them taken away at the catacombs, but he gets them back in the woods, he then flees and ends up in a predicament, he mentally wishes his guns hadn’t been taken away at the catacombs, he’s later shooting his guns, etc.)

The ending is also...like, an “ending?” It’s HFN, but it wraps up in a way that made me feel like, “Is that the end? Will there be another serial?” There isn’t a continuation now. Maybe there will be one later, but it made the ending somewhat unsatisfying, although again, safely HFN.

Out of Carter’s two novels, Dragon Slayer is my favorite and I think a stronger work. That one was also a serial, but the storyline felt strongly tied throughout, and I didn’t feel as confused while reading it.

I do think Carter excels at creating fun fantasy worlds and very engaging characters (and relationships--I like both the leads in Dragon Slayer and in this book.) If you like m/m fantasy, you may want to give this a try. (And at 75,000 words, it’s a nicely long novel.)

If you’re wondering which Carter book to try first, I would vote for Dragon Slayer. This was also a nice read, although sometimes frustrating. I dig her style though, and I will definitely read more.