Hannah Spencer, Dreamweaver
reviewed by Alison McBain
Date: June 10, 2018
Length: 284 pages
A short while back, I reviewed Hannah Spencer’s novel The Wolf of Allendale. I was highly impressed by the interwoven details of the novel’s plot, the complex characters and the thoroughness of the background details of the setting. It was a great read, a combination of folk tales and superstitions with some touches on contemporary concerns, a literary voice, and careful pacing, and I highly enjoyed it.
Reading her new book Dreamweaver was even better. It starts out with a complex mystery and trace of horror, so that the reader begins the book with a number of puzzle pieces that have to be put together. While I wasn’t quite sure what was going on at first — not a bad thing, in my opinion; I like to be dropped into a world and have to figure the mystery out for myself — the story quickly picks up steam. By chapter two, I was hooked. By chapter three, I couldn’t put it down.
The story focuses on three women living in the UK. Jemima lives in the present time, and she finds a crystal skull in the woods that awakens a mystery and also an ancient power that she isn’t able to control. Johanna and Juliette are two women from the past that Jemima has visions and dreams about: Johanna is a new mother whose husband Cornelius supports one side in a civil war. Juliette lives at a different time in the past, and her father also is on one side of a civil war. Both women from the past come across an ancient relic, a skull, and learn about its power.
As the story unfolds, the reader learns that all three women are connected over time . The problem for Jemima is that time is running out, and she has to figure out the mystery before she, too, becomes trapped.
There are great details that make the characters come alive, including good tension and pacing of the narrative, realistic dialogue, good character development, and a storyline to keep the reader guessing what will happen next. Spencer balances three alternate timelines without a problem, keeping the reader wondering which character is which until nearly the end, and the tension remains accordingly high. The battle scenes are written in a very clear manner. As an author myself, I know that is very hard to do, but Spencer does it with ease. She portrays an organized chaos that shows a clear, visual picture of what happens in each action scene.
While the historical themes might seem like the story has little relevance to today’s world, there is a decided tie-in to modern-day concerns about the role of feminism and female agency that will resonate with readers. I enjoyed the subtle creativity of these thematic undercurrents.
The only thing that pulled me out of the story was the motif of the crystal skull. While skulls have long been associated with magic, especially dark magic, I couldn’t help but compare it to the movie Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. While the stories aren’t remotely similar, because of the skull’s similarity in terms of being a crystal skull imbued with power and some sort of intelligence, it brought the movie to mind when it was mentioned. I know not all readers will feel the same way, especially those who never saw the film, so I feel it is more a minor distraction than a large diversion from the story.
Overall, I thought this was a fantastic interweaving of history and myth, magic and science, reality and fantasy. The title plays well into the story, since the story becomes more and more dreamlike, until the main character can hardly differentiate between her waking dreams and reality. But at the same time, the story takes the reader on a solid narrative path that ends almost literally with a bang.
I hope you enjoy reading Dreamweaver as much as I did. I’d definitely recommend it to fans of history, Celtic legends, and fantasy.
Copyright © 2018 by Alison McBain