Rating: 3 stars
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The Order of Azoth has been gathering power and building a plan to take over the waking world. Meanwhile, Ethan and his boyfriend, Grady, can do little to stop them while they are stuck in a dream world. Thankfully, Death—also known as Mercury—is trying to help Ethan realize his full potential as a sandman, a being capable of freely moving between planes of existence. Of course, part of realizing that power means Ethan must relinquish his humanity, but needs must. Only then can Ethan and Mercury go find Ethan’s father, the full-fledged Sandman, and begin to put together a plan to stop the Order of Azoth.
Ethan and the others aren’t working alone. Chris, Grady’s assistant in fighting the paranormal and a powerful technomage in his own right, uses his status as prisoner of the Order of Azoth to covertly help Ethan. The work he does for the Order includes a secret message that helps Ethan focus his attack on the Order. Then there is Vivian, Grady’s former secretary and a witch, who will do whatever it takes to keep Ethan safe—even if it means infiltrating the Order of Azoth. But even with all this help, the Order manages to unleash the powerful Phantom, a creature determined to take over Earth. It’s up to Ethan, Mercury, and the others to find a way to use the dream world to their advantage—to save their own lives and the world itself.
Dream Weaver is the third installment of Dez Schwartz’s Roam series. I am going to be brutally honest—I was pretty damn lost for the whole book. One of the biggest hurdles is that Schwartz seems to jump immediately into the plot. I didn’t feel like there was any recapping of the events in the previous books and no reminding the reader of who all the characters are. I knew Ethan, Grady, Mercury/Dacey, and a few others. But with the plot subdivided into three intertwining threads, I had to go back to books one and two to remember who is good or bad or borderline. This is an imperfect way to get the pertinent information because I was searching for names, but actual developments were not made sufficiently clear in the scanning I could do.
For me, this absence of reminding the reader who is who created a pretty big conflict. First, in earlier books, it seemed pretty clear that Mercury is the messenger of Death—so two different individuals. In book three, Mercury is also Death—one single character. Second, the difference between Ethan as a sandman and Ethan’s father as the sandman was not a clear distinction in my mind. And in fact, Ethan gives up his humanity to assume full sandman powers before his father does and I thought that meant Ethan was the sandman. These two elements together were incredibly significant in my mind because a big side story is that Mercury and Sandman, in the lore of this world, are lovers. In other words, I thought I was being groomed for some big romantic upset between Ethan The Sandman and Grady, who either would have to become Mercury or would be dumped for the individual who already occupied that role. The “upside” I guess is that the distinction between Ethan being a sandman and his dad being the sandman means all that messiness can be eschewed. But that just fobs the whole dilemma off on Ethan’s dad which just…annoyed me because it’s not like it really gets addressed beyond “well, the past is the past and everyone has moved on!”
Speaking of Ethan and Grady, Grady’s role in this book is relegated to “Ethan’s protector” and he fails at that pretty quickly when Ethan gives up his humanity to assume sandman powers. This seemed like a huge blow to Grady and he reacts pretty strongly on page. But for the remaining two-thirds of the book and right through the epilogue, these two never discuss the fact that Ethan is not mortal and Grady is. This is extra irritating because Grady experienced some feelings of being not worthy of Ethan because Grady would only ever be mortal. Of the very few times Ethan and Grady actually get scenes together, there is zero discussion about an issue that I thought mattered a great deal to Grady.
So the interpersonal relationships get sacrificed for the sake of weaving together the three plot lines: Ethan, Mercury, Grady, and some others trying to escape the dream realm; Chris trying to escape the Order of Azoth while simultaneously trying to help Ethan understand what the Order plans; and Vivian trying to find a way to get in touch with Ethan to help him. This helped pace the action to an extent and build suspense by mini “cliffhangers.” Like when Ethan gets reunited with his dad at the end of one chapter then the next starts with developments with Chris. They all coalesce into a group effort to subdue the Order. But I thought the Vivian thread was a big nothing burger—the characters are not interesting and, ultimately, don’t do anything to meaningfully advance the plot. Chris is more helpful, but again, doesn’t seem to accomplish much that the group with Ethan couldn’t have done for themselves. The most exciting thing that happens is that there is a hot minute where one of the principle characters gets wounded pretty badly during the big battle sequence…but that gets wrapped up in about two seconds and doesn’t push that character’s relationship any further or cause a huge wrinkle in the battle itself.
Overall, this book was very hard for me to get into. I was frustrated with the author’s poor job at helping the reader remember who all these characters are. I was frustrated that there felt like zero effort in recapping the events of the last book in even the most cursory manner. I was disappointed that everything in the prose focuses on what the characters are DOING despite one-liners and brief mentions of how these events affect the characters (like the whole Ethan’s not human and that had Grady second guessing his worthiness thing). If you love this series or want to keep up on it, I highly recommend re-reading at least book two again before attempting book three. I would also be prepared for a plot-driven book that largely leaves the character drama to brief asides that really didn’t seem to get explored.