Dreams of the Dying by Nicolas Lietzau (Enderal #1)

Jaaros Oonai, magnate, visionary, and master of coin, doesn't muse about whether the glass is half empty or half full-only about ways to fill it.

Jespar Dal'Varek, drifter, veteran, and master of avoidance, doesn't muse at all. He'd rather just drink the damn wine. 

Two lives that could not be more different intertwine when a strange contract leads Jespar to the tropical island empire of Kilay, the wealthiest nation of the Illumined World.

The mission turns out to be as bizarre as it is lucrative: Jaaros Oonai, the country's merchant king, knows something that could stop a catastrophe, but he has fallen into an inexplicable coma. Together with an ex-priestess and a psychic, Jespar must enter Oonai's dreams and find this secret. 

What should have been a fresh start quickly turns into a nightmare, as Jespar slides into a spiral of disturbing dreams, political intrigue, and clashing ideals, where not only the fate of Kilay but his own sanity are at stake. It's not long before he learns that sometimes only a spider's thread divides the sleeping and the awoken. 

And that there's no greater enemy than one's own mind.

CONTRIBUTOR(S): Ben Britton (Narrator), Dave Fennoy (Narrator)
PUBLISHER: Neochrome Fiction
YEAR: 2020
LENGTH: 826 pages (23 hours 49 minutes)
AGE: Adult
GENRE: Fantasy, Horror
RECOMMENDED: No

Queer Rep Summary: Gay/Achillean Main Character(s), Bi/Pan Main Character(s).

I wanted to like this book. I had a good time reading most of it, with some minor quibbles. Then the ending happened, and it was so off-putting that it prompted me to reevaluate some events that I had accepted previously as plot contrivances, but, in combination with the ending, make me distrust the direction of potential future stories in this series or with these characters. 

First, I will cover some things that I liked, because it wasn’t all bad – I did get to the end after all. I’ve been reading a lot of unsympathetic or unlikable characters recently, and so I was in a zone to accept this very flawed and conflicted main character who feels surrounded by death and like he just destroys the lives of the people around him. They made some really good points about different philosophical and political topics, including an extended digression about free will and showing people having trouble coping after very traumatic events.

There were a few signs that something was a bit off. Early on, when trying to remove a magical brain parasite from a pretty terrible person, the main character gets infected so that he has the parasite as well, and it starts messing with his dreams, and eventually begins affecting his ability to perceive reality, even when he awake. The story seem to establish pretty early on this character is bisexual or whatever is the in-universe equivalent, since at the start of the book there’s a night where he sleeps with a male and a female sex worker (frustration one: the book’s language for them was derogatory slang). Pretty soon after he arrives where he was summoned, he starts working together with a woman, and they start casually sleeping together. They’re traveling with another man, and when the woman notices that the main character seems attracted to this guy, she says she wants to be exclusive. Almost immediately, he has a nightmare where he sees her as a corpse, and his romantic and sexual feelings for her go away literally overnight, he sleeps with the other man that same evening, then tells the woman and she breaks up with him. It’s a really frustrating mistake that didn’t need to happen, he could’ve just not wanted to agree to be exclusive, but instead, he agreed to be exclusive and broke his promise in just a couple of days. Infidelity is a thing that happens sometimes in monogamous relationships, and in real life, people of any orientation might cheat. However, this was the second thing that made me specifically uncomfortable because now we have a bisexual character who is cheating, which plays into pretty terrible real-world stereotypes. This is also an early sign, which it took me to the end to realize, that the characters seem to associate intense, fuzzy feelings with love, and treat the absence of them as spelling doom for a relationship. This is very allonormative of them, and seemed to come out of nowhere when I first read the ending. 

This was frustrating and complicated in several ways:
1) The book consistently treats intense romantic feelings as being directly tied to sexual desire, and assumes both are necessary for a meaningful relationship, this is acephobic and aerophobic
2) It treats a lack of emotion or difficulty identifying emotions as meaning someone can't be in a meaningful relationship (as someone with a very limited emotional palette, I vehemently disagree). Even worse, by accurately portraying this as possible side effect of brain damage (which is a real potential cause of this condition), the ableism is explicit and the author seems to have done it on purpose.
3) There's now no place for the narrative to go that I could accept. Either the character is gone forever from the series because he no longer loves the main character and won't come back, or he comes back because he gets his feelings back. Both are unacceptable to me. Also, if he comes back without having his sense of emotions restored, then what the hell was the point of leaving in the first place? 

Graphic/Explicit CW for gore, body horror, fire/fire injury, violence, war, murder, death.

Moderate CW for cursing, classism, infidelity, racism, drug use, sexual assault, rape, child abuse, mental illness, ableism, panic attacks, emotional abuse, physical abuse, domestic abuse, terminal illness, medical content, colonization, torture, suicide attempt, murder, child death, animal death. 

Minor CW for sexual content, sexual abuse, sexual harassment, racial slurs, alcohol, suicide.

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