Book Reviews

A Dream of Death and Magic: Chaos of Esta Anderson, Book 1

If only we could choose who we fall in love with. I might have known better then. But he smiles at me again, our eyes meet, and I think that I’m dumb enough to have chosen him anyway. Esta Anderson’s life is missing something. She feels there should be… more to, well, everything, and her ambitions of being a photographer aren’t exactly going as planned, either. But she’s determined to change at least the latter this summer. She just isn’t sure how—inspiration has been a bit of a bitch lately. She’s also a lucid dreamer who knows her dreamscape better than her actual neighbourhood. So, when one day she finds a strange obsidian void lake in her dreams, she can’t just pretend it isn’t there. Something has to happen if she jumps in… right? It wouldn’t make her feel so seen and strangely whole if it were nothing. Except, that’s exactly what happens: nothing. At least at first. But then… Who knew the world was so full of fairies and vampires and werewolves and demons and— Magic? Well, obviously they did, but Esta feels like she’s finally seeing the world as it really is. And with that new insight comes all the photography inspiration she’s been waiting for. Except the Veiled are hiding for a reason. They’ve seen war before, and if Esta isn’t careful, her enthusiasm and curiosity could start a new one. Some of the Veiled are ancient, they remember the last battle against humanity… And they know just how to turn Esta’s lucid dreams into her worst nightmares.

Lucid dreaming is a concept that has long interested me. It is not a skill I have managed to master, but the idea of consciously interacting with your dreams and exerting a level of control over them is an enticing one. It’s also excellent fodder for a fantasy story, and one that Sabrina Langer has brought to the fore with A Dream of Death and Magic. There is more to the story, however, with its fantastical elements extending past the land of dreams and into the world, friendships, and a slow-burn romance.

If you noted the novel’s subtitle at the top of this review, you would have noticed, like many other fantasy stories, it is part of a series, Chaos of Estra Anderson. This is the first book in what is planned to be a ten-part epic. If you’re wary of jumping into a book that promises many more entries to come, don’t be: A Dream of Death and Magic stands on its own without feeling like it’s only ten per cent of the story, or that you will need to read the following nine for the complete tale. While it is abundantly clear that Langer has a whole lot more story to tell, this book feels like a complete experience. It certainly promises there’s more of the world to explore, and while plot threads are planted for further development, it doesn’t diminish the story being told.

At an estimated 215 pages on Kindle (at the time of writing, I don’t have a page count for the paperback version), A Dream of Death and Magic is a fairly brisk read. The author uses this space judiciously, weaving together an urban fantasy that spends a good portion of its time in the dream world, explores its protagonist, Esta and her world as well develops her friendships with housemate Bonnie, witch Kate, and mysterious bookstore owner Leverett. Esta, with dreams of becoming a successful photographer, finds herself more at home in dreams than the real world. After discovering an obsidian lake in her dream, she dives in. Once awake again, she discovers the real world contains many mysteries, particularly surrounding supernatural beings—who prefer to be called the less-exclusionary “Veiled,” due to them hiding themselves from humanity—including fairies, werewolves, and vampires.

A Dream of Death and Magic’s plot moves slowly, gradually unveiling the mysteries of the Veiled in the real world, as well as the mysteries of Esta’s dreamscape. Without ever feeling too slow, Langer uses the pace to explore the book’s characters, build the world and its mysteries and develop a romance, while building towards a conflict with a figure from her dreams, the Dreamcatcher, and the mythological bringer of nightmares, the Mara.

While Langer has crafted an enjoyable plot that will lure fans of urban fantasies, mythologies and the power of dreams into its world, the greatest joy this book offers is in its characters. While Esta is the protagonist and point of view character (it’s right there in the series title, Chaos of Esta Anderson), the supporting characters are a joy to read. Bonnie and Kate provide support for Esta in tough times while also standing on their own, while Leverett is a mysterious presence, but one that is filled with a great amount of humanity. And that’s before we get to the non-human, don-Veiled characters, Esta’s dog, Lady, and her feline companion in the dream world, Mischief, who is a constant source of delight.

Naturally, these characters are underpinned by Esta, who the plot revolves around as she serves as the novel’s sole point of view character. Constantly engaging and always relatable, Esta is a thoroughly enjoyable protagonist to follow. A Dream of Death and Magic is written in the first person, which Langer uses to explore the world as Esta sees it. This narration is absolutely delightful as the reader follows Esta through her adventures, presented with a sparkling wit throughout.

The author uses this perspective to explore the world, presenting the heightened reality in the dream world as a thing of wonder, while juxtaposing it with the mundane reality of the real world, while also exploring it with relish. As the book unveils the Veiled, it does so with a sense of magic. As the book moves towards its climax, Langer infuses it with a sense of dread, while also conveying the horror of wars past, the spectre of which colour the story.

The wit within Esta’s narration carries over to the dialogue, which is constantly entertaining and amusing. The characters all sound unique, and their distinct voices bounce off each other well. This is a book that features humans, supernatural beings and mythological figures, with each character sounding like it fits the archetype while feeling natural. It’s a great balance that ensures no character suddenly feels out of place.

As an added bonus at the end of the book, Langer has included a guide to lucid dreaming for readers. If the book captures your imagination about this skill—and it is certain to—and you feel like giving it a try, it is a great primer with some easy to follow steps to start your journey.

As an urban fantasy, A Dream of Death and Magic checks all the right boxes for an enjoyable read. Its infusion of romance will entertain fans of the genre, and the dream world Esta explores adds a wonderful extra dimension. The real joy here, though, is in its characters, particularly Esta and her point of view guiding the reader through the story.

Favourite Passage

I’ve seen more fairies than anything else. That’s assuming that they are fairies, though. I could be wrong. I don’t really know anything except that I wasn’t aware any of this existed until I jumped into the void lake. They’ve been hiding rather successfully from humanity for… well, possibly forever. What if everything we see on TV and read in novels is part of their hiding strategy? They could have been feeding us lies on purpose for all I know.

A Dream of Death and Magic: Chaos of Esta Anderson, Book 1, Chapter Five

A Dream of Death and Magic: Chaos of Esta Anderson, Book 1 was provided by the author for the purpose of an honest review.

A Dream of Death and Magic will available in both physical and Kindle forms, exclusive to Amazon, from 2 September, 2022.

Note: I do not post scores for reviews on this website, but do post them on my Amazon and Goodreads reviews:

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Interested in purchasing A Dream of Death and Magic?

Please find a link below; please note I do not collect any proceeds from the sale.

A Dream of Death and Magic (Chaos of Esta Anderson Book 1)

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