Where Dreams Descend (Kingdom of Cards #1)
by Janella Angeles
Expected publication: August 25, 2020, by Wednesday Books
In the icy city of Glorian, a daring group of stage magicians compete to win a spot as the headliner for the Conquering Circus. But the longer the competition goes on, the more higher the stakes are, as one by one the competitors begin to disappear. In all of this, young Kallia, a flashy and strong-willed young magician must conquer both her own past and the judges’ misogyny, while the brooding Judge Demarco must overcome his own past pain to solve the mystery of the disappearances– and the riddle of Kallia’s past before both of them disappear in a flash of light and mirrors.
“Anticipation crackled beneath her skin at the sight of the shadowed attendees flooding the rows of the show hall. Goose bumps traveled across her flesh, but she quelled her shiver. She relished the pinch of fear as it sparked every nerve, shooting adrenaline into her body and a clarity emptying her mind of all thought, all worry.”
Though it’s been thirty-four years since The Phantom of the Opera premiered in London’s West End, and nineteen years since Baz Luhrman’s film Moulin Rouge! came out, both shows have gone on to have more than a little influence over certain areas of popular culture, with many creators attempting to recapture the allure of the mysterious phantom mentor, or the glitz and glamour of the Parisian night club. In her debut YA fantasy novel, Janella Angeles seeks to capture the mystery and magic her inspirations, but largely misses the mark, relying on YA clichés to do the heavy lifting in the narrative and building a world that wants to be grandiose and rich, but ends up feeling only as deep as the theater sets Angeles was inspired by.
The heroine, Kallia, is yet another in a long list of Strong Female Heroines who leads with her snark and a devil-may-care attitude, hiding her mysterious past with a smile or a snide remark to anyone who looks at her wrong. The brooding boy on the other side of the story, Daron Demarco, also has a mysterious past, though he hides his problems with glares and by spending hours at a time ruminating over his past mistakes and losses. If these ruminations happened only once or twice, they wouldn’t weigh the story down as much as they do, but it feels as though Demarco does little but brood, except for the times he shows concern for Kallia– who consistently responds by making snide remarks.
Angeles’s writing roots in the fanfiction world are on display throughout. While fanfic has grown up in the past decade and many authors either started out writing on such platforms as Archive of Our Own or, in many cases, still write fanfic, there is a particular prose style that afflicts much fanfiction: overwriting. No one simply smiles. Their lips turn up at the corners in an expression that doesn’t reach their eyes, which brim with mystery and a hint of malice. This purple prose is often mistaken for lyricism, but it hinders more than it helps, causing the story to stagger under its own weight. A cleaner prose style would emphasize the story’s stronger elements. Luhrman’s Moulin Rouge! may be a bright and busy film, but a closer look reveals that its story and visuals are surprisingly tight and efficient. The same is true for the state production of The Phantom of the Opera. Perhaps in the second Kingdom of Cards book, Angeles will take that closer look at her muses and take a cue from the efficiency of the storytelling of her inspirations.
Where Dreams Descend is a story that wants to be so much. It wants glitter and glamor and all the drama of the stage, but while it seeks to build a kingdom of cards, its endless brooding and overwrought prose make of it a house of cards that’s only just strong enough to avoid collapsing in on itself.
Thank you to NetGalley and Wednesday Books for providing me with a free eBook in exchange for an honest review. This did not affect my opinion in any way.