Books & Literature

Book Review: Dream of Death City, by PJ Nwosu

FANTASY: Investigators arrive to a superstitious island to solve a brutal crime. Among them is a lowly slave desperate to prove her worth and a soldier with dark dreams. Neither are prepared for what they find.

A clever and violent fantasy by a South Australian author.
5

When I was sent this book to review, it came with a disclaimer: “The author wants to make sure you’re okay with heavy dark fantasy.” There were absolutely no issues on my account; I love a fantasy world where death lingers around every corner, as long as there’s an interesting cast of characters and a story that makes sense. Readers should note that this is a dark fantasy, with the concept of death featuring heavily in the themes throughout.

Dream of Death City is set in the Red Kingdom, a land with very specific rules, culture, and class restrictions. This is the world in which we are introduced to Thora, a slave in the service of Investigation House, and Diem, a working-class man and her immediate superior. Thora and Diem, along with another slave, Effile, are sent to Death City, a wild island in the furthest backwater of the Red Kingdom, to investigate the disappearance of a nobleman’s daughter.

Nwosu introduces the culture in a way that seems natural, giving the reader enough information at a time to keep one from becoming confused, without falling into the common pitfall of the fantasy genre: the info dump. The speech patterns are unique, with the lower classes in particular having a specific vernacular that never feels forced and is never confusing to follow.

The rules of the Red Kingdom feel reminiscent of the Spanish Inquisition, with punishment by burning commonplace for anyone (especially women in this highly patriarchal society) who believes, speaks, or even thinks something other than what the Red Kingdom allows. Despite the lack of agency the culture itself imposes on the female characters, Thora is interesting, clever, and finds ways around her class and gender restrictions. The restrictions also serve as her motivation, to escape her lowly slave status and to make something of herself.

One character I would love to have seen fleshed out a little more is Effile, who accompanies Thora and Diem to Death City to assist the investigation. We find out very little about her and what motivates her, and it’s clear that Thora takes little interest in getting to know Effile, despite later referring to her as a close friend. Perhaps it was word count, or another reason for why this character is given less dimension, who knows. Perhaps if Nwosu is looking to write another novella to accompany this story, we could have some more of Effile? (hint, hint …)

This book does fall into the genre of dark fantasy, but I found the first half of the book read much more like a murder mystery in a fantasy world with an extreme red/black aesthetic, until I began to wonder if that’s all there was to the “dark” element in the story. However, the second half of the book certainly delivers, with violence, torture and destructive character choices to rival a George R.R. Martin novel. I say this in the most complimentary sense, particularly as the violence in Dream of Death City always has a clear purpose and drives the plot in a way that some of the aforementioned author’s choices do not.

Readers should note that this is the first book of a series. The main story does come to a close, but it is clear that there are some loose threads that will extend into Book Two and beyond. There is currently no information regarding the progress or release of the second book but those hungry for more can find two free novellas featuring some of the same characters on Nwosu’s website.

It is exciting to see quality fantasy coming from South Australia, and it would be worth looking out for more works by PJ Nwosu.

Reviewed by Kristin Stefanoff

This review is the opinion of the reviewer and not necessarily of Glam Adelaide.

Distributed by: Small Heart Press/PJ Nwosu
Released: November 2022
RRP: $27.99

PJ Nwosu writes dark stories set in strange fantasy worlds.

She loves reading gritty detective and fantasy novels, and is obsessed with learning about strange, creepy tales from history. Under the name Poppy Nwosu she has published multliple books for teenagers, with her work shortlisted for many Australian awards, including the Readings YA Book Prize, SPN Book of the Year, and Aurealis Awards, as well as being selected as a CBCA Notables Book.

Dream of Death City is her first dark fantasy book for adult readers.

She lives by the sea in Adelaide, Australia with her husband and black cat.

To discover PJ Nwosu’s dark fantasy fiction for free, visit her website at www.PJNwosu.com

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