Saturday, 10 March 2007

Triumphant Conclusion of Dream Saga

DREAMQUAKE Elizabeth Knox, Fourth Estate/ HarperCollins, Auckland NZ, 2007, 514 pages, paperback, NZ$27.99.
ISBN 0-7322-8194-6

Like her plucky creation Laura Hame, Elizabeth Knox has an unusual ability to project her dreams to an audience. Dreamquake begins exactly where her award-winning Dreamhunter (2005) ended, as a shared dream of contentment turns into a terrifying nightmare of being buried alive. These two novels are set in the Republic of Southland, an alternative version of Edwardian Nelson, where talented dreamhunters can enter another dimension, harvest dreams and then present them as a popular entertainment. When the peacefully sleeping patrons of the Founderstown Opera House have that “great screeching wheel of nightmare” inflicted on them, it becomes clear that while dreams can be used to entertain and to heal, they can also be used to control minds and to seize and maintain power.

Laura, who began her dream-gathering career with such high hopes in Dreamhunter, is now aware of the misuse of dreams. Her own father, Tziga Hame, barely survived the stress of being made to use nightmares to discipline hard-labour prisoners in the Westport mines. Unscrupulous Cas Doran knows how to use his power as head of the Dream Regulatory Board to control the minds of dream-drugged voters. When Doran’s minions move against Laura and her family, the unintended result is a terrifying fire at a debutante ball. Knox’s description of this conflagration is a stunningly convincing set-piece, one of many in the novel. “The fire was more than sixty yards from where Grace stood…The sound it made was solid and soft, like a huge audience clapping with gloved hands.”

Just as in the rest of the story, whether in the “real” world of Southland or in the dreams of its citizens, every detail is so carefully created that even the most unlikely events seem genuine. There is a large cast of characters but each is skilfully characterised and distinct. Even Nown, Laura’s golem of sand, achieves a recognisable personality. The plot is intricate but always clear and the skilfully choreographed action sequences make the Dreamhunter Duet a likely future project for Peter Jackson.

When Laura bravely undertakes a final, life-threatening challenge within The Place, the alien desert world in another dimension, she learns the terrible truth of where all the dreams come from. It is brilliantly logical and explains every odd feature of both novels, bringing the saga to a carefully crafted and entirely satisfactory ending. Reading Dreamquake is like sharing a richly detailed and convincing dream. Elizabeth Knox has fashioned a brilliant two-volume masterpiece.

Trevor Agnew

First published in The Press, Christchurch, New Zealand on 3rd February 2007

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