THE DREAMER AND THE MARKED

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Krystal Monarain is an amateur photographer who works at Dahlia’s Tea and Book Shoppe in Colorado. Lately, she’s been dreaming of a manor filled with fantastical individuals who are unable to see her. One night, a man with half of his face badly scarred does spot her. This is Draqa, loyal employee to Gov. Sius Mavell Evi. Draqa explains to Krystal that she’s “soul-traveling” to the fae world of Arai, and that she must be half fae. Krystal is stunned because she does indeed have pointed ears that she hides beneath her hair. As they enjoy each other’s company, Draqa suggests visiting her world of Taevalear one day—just before an alarm clock wakes her. Krystal resumes her humdrum life until one day at an outdoor market, she encounters Draqa. He’s arrived via a secret forest Gate. She learns more from him, including that she shares her surname with a minister who was assassinated 24 years ago. More information whets Krystal’s appetite for adventure, but Draqa is forbidden from bringing anyone through the Gate. When she sneaks through after him, Krystal discovers entanglements of which she’s never dreamed. Fenn’s fantasy series opener adds pleasant twists to several genre tropes, including that Arai is not a medieval world, but is on pace technologically with Taevalear. There are, for example, solar panel devices known as sonnes and personal communication devices called aspectacasters. Unfortunately, Arai also features prejudice against groups like the “yilura,” who can be jailed for “shapeshifting without a permit.” Casual readers may feel inundated by the narrative’s political aspects, which arrive in force early on. Patience is needed as the story arc of Ambassador Javis Zevos slowly intertwines with that of the protagonists. Krystal’s relationship with Javis changes as she begins dreaming of his tragic past, which reveals a battered soul. And while Draqa is often appalling, as when he says, “A random child is not that important,” the author carefully redeems him. A surprising epilogue foreshadows darker happenings in the sequel.

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