I don’t make a habit of rereading books. And yet I have wanted to reread not one, but two books in the past month almost as soon as I completed my first reading. They were that good.
The first of these two extraordinary books was Dreamhunter by New Zealand author Elizabeth Knox (alternately known as The Rainbow Opera in the UK). The second, and perhaps this isn’t a great surprise, was Dreamquake (2007) also by Elizabeth Knox. Together, these titles create The Dreamhunter Duet.
Dreamquake (which I believe is more appropriately called The Dream Quake in England) is the second book of Knox’s Dreamhunter Duet and was a 2008 Printz Award Honor Book and an ALA Best Book for Young Adults in 2008.
There is a lot I want to say about this book, but first I have to say a bit about how the duet actually works. Some readers feel strongly, and fairly, that the Duet cannot be read in isolation (that is the two books cannot stand alone). Other readers, also fairly, feel that the books can and do work well as individual pieces of prose. I actually agree with both viewpoints.
Personally, I think both books stand alone. Knox is a good enough writer that either book feels like a complete read. The opening of Dreamquake adequately explains the events of the first book so that readers won’t be lost or bored. At the same time, having seen both parts of the Duet in person, I have to say they really are one book. Just looking at the book design–the first book has a prologue while the second includes the epilogue and a glossary–I realized that Dreamhunter and Dreamquake are more like two parts of one story (what I often call companion books in this blog) than two stories directly following each other (what I would call sequel books).
Just a bit about the basic plot of Dreamhunter: I’m not all that familiar with New Zealand but a review from the New Zealand Listener tells me that Knox’s novels are set in “something like the New Zealand of a century ago, but with a twist, in that social life revolves around a traffic in dreams.” The rare people who can catch dreams (dreamhunters) perform them for the social elite at dream palaces like the Rainbow Opera. Dreams are also often used for the public good in hospitals around Southland.
Some dreamhunters also capture nightmares which readers learn in Dreamhunter are used for the public good, but in a much more sinister way. Laura, our protagonist, discovers this fact when she begins investigating the disappearance of her father, one of the greatest dreamhunters Southland has ever seen. Outraged by what she has seen, Laura sets out to inform the public of the governments use of nightmares. Dreamhunter ends with the disastrous results of this attempt.
It is therefore no surprise that Dreamquake opens with the chaos following the execution of Laura’s plan as Southland and Laura’s family are thrown into a state of disarray. Adrift with only her creation Nown and a nightmare, Laura has to find a way to earn back her family’s trust while negotiating an entanglement with a fellow young dreamhunter. All this while continuing to investigate the corruption of the sinister Dream Regulatory Body created to control the Place and its invaluable resources.
I could actually talk for hours about the nuances of this novel’s plot and how Knox ties everything together at the end, but if you read the book you’ll probably see what I mean for yourself.
Dreamquake is every bit as good as Dreamhunter while also being even better because it expands on characters who don’t get as much time to shine in the first novel. Sandy and Rose (and to some extent Nown) are back and much more engaged in the central plot than they were in Dreamhunter to great effect.
Knox’s prose is unique in that it is well-paced while also being high action. Knox takes her time to explain terms like “Soporif” and “Novelists” but never to the detriment of the story. The action here is so intense and gripping that, at several points in the novel, I found myself skimming ahead just to make sure that everything would turn out all right in the end.
The Dreamhunter Duet is a rare thing in contemporary literature. Both books are rich enough that, were the main characters not teenagers, no one would question its place as an adult book–but I’ve made that argument about other books on this site. More to the point, Knox is an amazing writer. Dreamhunter and Dreamquake are populated by a wide variety of characters, each unique and fully realized on the page.
Instead of creating a world and characters and even this story, it feels instead like Knox is introducing readers to old friends, reciting a familiar tale–everything within these novels seems so real, the details are so concrete, that it feels like folly to consider it fantastic or even fiction. And that is why Dreamquake (and Dreamhunter) will surely take their rightful places among the canon of great fantasy novels.
Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, Chime by Franny Billingsley, The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, Incarceron by Catherine Fisher, Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, Magisterium by Jeff Hirsch, Salt & Storm by Kendall Kulper, Sabriel by Garth Nix, Uprooted by Naomi Novik, The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, The Last of the High Kings by Kate Thompson, The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner