A little later than planned, butI’m delighted to be reviewing ‘Dreams of the Dying’ by Nicolas Lietzau as part of the blog tour organised by Storytellers on Tour. This is the first book in the Enderal series, and is a book that has been on my TBR for far too long and I’m glad that I took the plunge.
I hope that you will check out the book and the author, and enjoy the rest of the tour with the schedule in the banner below or (HERE).
Disclaimer – I received a copy in exchange for an honest review, all thoughts are my own.
Years after a harrowing war experience, ex-mercenary Jespar Dal’Varek has taken to drifting. It’s a lonely existence, but, barring the occasional bout of melancholia, he has found the closest thing to peace a man like him deserves. Life is “all right.”
Or so he believes. Hoping to turn the page, Jespar accepts a mysterious invitation into the beautiful but dangerous archipelago of Kilay-and everything changes.
Plagued by explosive social tensions and terrorism, the tropical empire is edging ever closer to civil war. Kilay’s merchant king is the only person able to prevent this catastrophe, but he has fallen into a preternatural coma-and it’s Jespar’s task to figure out what or who caused it. As the investigation takes him across the archipelago and into the king’s nightmares, unexpected events not only tie Jespar’s own life to the mystery but also unearth inner demons he believed to be long exorcised.
Battling old trauma while fighting for his life, his sanity, and the fate of Kilay, the line between dream and reality blurs until only one question remains: If your mind is the enemy, where do you run?
“The mind is a malleable thing. Soil, if you’re feeling poetic. Depending on the seed, anything will grow in it, from graceful gardens to idyllic meadows, from weedy forests to foggy swamps. Harmonious or chaotic, peaceful or perilous, healthy or ill—it’s all a matter of seeds.
This book has been on my TBR for ages, and I’ve had it recommended to me countless times – and zero excuses for not having picked it up sooner, and I’m glad that this tour gave me the shove I needed because what a stunning book. Now, I will admit, I have no knowledge of the Vyn games or universe, and I didn’t need to – yes if you are aware of those then you may have a slightly different experience, but if like me you are new to the Vyn universe and Enderal, then this book is its own entity in its entirety.
Firstly, as I am sure many others are done I have to comment on just how stunning this book is. There is the cover, which is the first thing that made me pick this one up long before I had heard of it from other sources, it draws you in and promises a hell of a lot (and then more than delivers). Then there is a map – which as we all know is an immediate bonus point from me. However, the hardback copy of Dreams of the Dying is really a piece of art, and includes among other things an illustrated index – and the artwork alone would make it more than worthwhile grabbing this edition, but this is also combined with essays about the world as well some other features. The bonus content is a fun bonus, and really interesting, and is further evidence of just how much love, time and attention to detail has been poured into this book and especially into the world.
‘After breakfast, they met Kawu and Agaam at the stables, four saddled horses beside them. A crimson spot around the muzzle of one of them drew Jespar’s attention: Arazalean steppe-runners, the fastest and most enduring horses in the Illumined World. The telltale red streaks in this particular breed appeared to have been either bred out or dyed for camouflage purposes.’
This leads me to one of my favourite aspects of Dreams of the Dying which is the worldbuilding. The sheer attention to detail and the effort that has gone into capturing that and making it as accurate and believable as possible is simply breathtaking and a very clear labour of love. As someone with an academic interest in geography and archaeology, it was wonderful to experience the care with which those aspects were handled, especially across different cultures, and this was paired with a similar dedication to the linguistic side, which created one of the most wonderfully immersive experiences. The same care and detail were evident in the fantastical elements too, especially within the magic system and the different magic users, creating a vivid whole that felt utterly believable. Lietzau has done an incredible job crafting this world in such a way that you can step into this book without knowing the games and not be lost, and that you start reading and soon forget about the real world, especially as it is so seamlessly in the background of what is very much a character-driven story.
Lietzau shows the same intricate care with his characterisation. Dreams of the Dying is told through two main POVs – Jespar which is the dominant one, with interludes of a The Man’s perspective. Jespar was fantastically written and incredibly compelling, Lietzau has a talent for stripping away the surface layers to reveal the tangled thoughts and emotions beneath, and his characters are all incredibly human with flaws, motivations and shaped by their past and the world around them. However, as much as I enjoyed Jespar’s POV, it was The Man who really gripped me and was some of Lietzau’s finest character work in this book, especially given the shorter nature of the interludes. The Man is gripping from the moment that we encounter him, and he is so wonderfully written that it’s hard to categorize him – in some ways he is very much an anti-hero but that feels as though you are stripping him down too far, he’s a character that demands your attention through his personality and actions – whose darkness is both compelling and charismatic and repelling. A character you can really love (to hate). It would be fair to say that both our main POVs have those moments, doing questionable actions and leaning into the grey and beyond, but such is Lietzau’s talent that you can understand how they’ve reached that point and the motivations behind them.
While these two are the stars of the show, Lietzau’s skill with characterisation is shown throughout the cast, and while they may not have always been as fleshed out as Jespar and The Man, they were all richly realised and compelling in their own way.
“If you fight injustice with injustice, no matter how deserved it may feel, you’ll always end up as just another turn of the wheel.”
As mentioned before, Lietzau has a real talent for capturing and revealing the tangled mess of human thoughts and emotions, and that is prevalent throughout the story. As much as this is a fantasy and a story about the characters, it is also a delve into the human experience…and darkness. There are so many themes explored throughout Dreams of the Dying, from the personal level to the broader society, and I would say that to truly appreciate the full depths of this book will take more than one reading. I am certainly planning on reading it again because I really don’t want to miss a single aspect of this book. Not all the themes are easy to read and explore, especially as this book delves into trauma and depression, and madness. It also explores power and wealth and poverty, and the effects of rising to power and giving in to ambition. Honestly, you could write an entire article just on the themes and not even come close to scratching the surface, but what makes these all the more striking is how they are integrated into the world and the characters’ story.
‘Silence reigned in the atrium. It was of a strange sort: not comfortable like that between two friends, not dreamy like that in an opium den, not eerie like the hush on a graveyard. This silence was so complete that it felt both sacral and unnerving as if Jespar was in the domain of a god and awaited his judgment.’
All of these aspects are brought into clear focus by the writing. I knew from the very first paragraph that I was going to fall in love with the prose, and the rest of the book only cemented that fact. As fantastic as the worldbuilding and characterisation are, it is the writing which really brought it to life for me and this was not a short book, but I could have happily read so much more of Lietzau’s writing – and look forward to rereading it and reading more of it in the future. He has a fantastic way of creating an immersive experience grounded in reality, while also capturing the quality of a dream or being lost in the depths of your own mind.
Dreams of the Dying is a spectacular book and one I wish I had read so much sooner. A fantastic read for anyone who loves character-driven dark fantasy, that is beautifully crafted in all aspects. You’re missing out if you don’t add this one to the TBR, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
I’m a German author best known for my writing for the award-winning indie videogame Enderal, which grew from niche favorite to cult hit.
Growing up in both the heart of Munich and a bucolic Bavarian farmhouse, my love for stories began by reading German fairytales in the attic and was nurtured by copious amounts of fiction, ranging from fantasy to horror to historical to literary.
Many things have shaped my writing: a turbulent childhood, living in five different countries, and a loss of reality I suffered due to experiments in lucid dreaming. I feel drawn to people and experiences off the beaten path and try to make my work reflect that.
When I’m not writing or reading, I make music, travel, longboard, study languages, and try to see and experience as much of the world as I can. I’m currently working on the second Enderal novel. Sign up to my newsletter or follow me on social media to stay up to date on my latest work. Also, a big thanks to all my patrons – you make my work possible.
Prize: A hardcover copy of Dreams of the Dying by Nicolas Lietzau – International
Starts: October 24th, 2021 at 12:00am EST
Ends: October 30th, 2021 at 11:59pm EST
You can enter HERE
If you’ve read it, or read it in the future, please feel free to shout at me about this fantastic book.