A team of super-powered gay/straight high schoolers must save the world by traveling through perilous dreamscapes in Ryan La Sala’s enjoyably splashy debut novel Reverie.
The back cover hook: “Inception meets The Magicians” is a good way to approach describing the high concept fantasy storyline. Though it begins more like the film Memento, or, for a gay YA reference point Greg Herren’s Sleeping Angel.
Kane Montgomery is home from the hospital after being in a car accident he doesn’t remember. He’s lost memory of any events leading up to the crash, and the circumstances were pretty disturbing. The police found him on the bank of a river after he apparently stole his parents’ car and drove it into an historic mill where the car ignited. The specter of criminality or attempted suicide follows him around though he doesn’t feel like the kind of person who would do something so reckless. He’s also confounded by the fact the only damage he suffered was short-term amnesia and an odd pattern of burns around his head.
When he visits the scene of his accident, hoping to regain memories, the supernatural enters the story in the form of a giant, shadowy Lovecraftian creature that chases Kane from the burnt mill. At an appointment for a court-ordered psychological evaluation, he’s introduced to Mr. Poesy, an effete bald gentleman who wears make-up and nail polish and seems a lot more interested in finding out what Kane forgot rather than evaluating his mental status. Upon Kane’s return to school, things get even weirder as a group of students he only vaguely recalls are watching him like a hawk and possibly conspiring against him.
It’s off to a damn fun start.
Gradually, Kane comes to understand he’s part of the “Others,” a band of four teens who realized their magical abilities when people in their sleepy town of East Amity, Connecticut started having dangerous dreams from which they might not wake up without the Others’ intervention. After school, Kane gets sucked into one that involves a classmate’s daydream of a barbaric fantasy world where teenage virgins are being sacrificed to a giant spider. There, he discovers he can fire rainbow energy bolts from his hands. His lesbian teammate Ursula has super strength. Elliot creates illusions, and Adeline can penetrate people’s minds.
Kane also meets a mysterious fifth magical character Dean. Dean may or may not have been Kane’s secret boyfriend prior to the accident, which was actually a far bigger parapsychological catastrophe.
The turf for Kane’s adventure is inventive, and La Sala creates intriguing dream worlds that draw upon the curious workings of the subconscious mind. Everyday folks take on unexpected roles from futuristic storm troopers to Victorian ladies of high society, and the settings are grand and vivid with inspiration points from the sleeper’s waking day. La Sala’s writing is crisp and vibrant, and particularly in the book’s second half when the action ramps up, it makes you want to speed-read to the end.
The only problem is the workings of Reverie’s dream world get so knotty and elusive, the reader struggles to wrap their brain around how dreams spun out of control in the first place and what’s really at stake. Similarly, Kane’s magical ability: figuring out the plotline of dreams, never really shows up as an element of much consequence. Magic pops and flashes from the pages, but through the end one wonders what rules enable the characters to get from A to Z.
Still, there’s much to recommend La Sala’s début novel. It’s an unapologetic queer fantasy extravaganza, complete with a drag queen sorceress pulling the strings. For sure, the story has its campy moments, but another nice achievement is it never runs aground as parody. It’s YA urban fantasy from a gay male gaze meant to stand up to the work of Cassandra Clare and Rick Riordan. Notwithstanding some worldbuilding holes, La Sala largely succeeds in that endeavor.
Another nice facet is that Kane’s gayness isn’t a source of angst or external conflict. Though through visiting the inner worlds of older LGBT characters, La Sala pays tribute to the courageous shoulders on which young LGBTs like Kane stand.
An excellent pick for YA fantasy readers and especially fans of C.B. Lee, Rainbow Rowell, and ‘Nathan Burgoine.
Reviewed by Andrew J. Peters