So, everyone knows how much I love Enderal, one of the best RPGS and stories in recent times. And it has a novel out too! It’s been ages since I have written a book review: the last one was Girl of the Stars by Mark Lawrence. I’m back again with a really special book.
I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The first version I read was the web novel released on Patreon by its author, writer of Enderal and game writer Nicholas Lietazu last year. It was also one of my favorite books of 2019. I was even happier to read the retail version, which is even stronger, if possible. You can tell right away how much love, work, blood and sweat has gone into it, from the formatting, to the amazing cover (one of the best covers I’ve seen on any book period) to the wonderful typography. Dreams of the Dying is a beauty to hold in my hands, and a beauty to read. Makes me want the hardcover more than ever.
Enderal had some of the best characters in any video game ever, and Dreams of the Dying takes the best of them all and shows him on his journeys before the events of Enderal. Jespar is brought to life in the paper world, and it just proves Nicolas knows how to write a damn good book just as well as he can making us love his world and characters in the computer screen too. He’s taken and evolved the canon from Enderal into his own way, making up for years of insight and experience, which is a good thing!
DOTD (I’ll do this abbreviation from now on) has stunning worldbuilding, to the point I could read the pages and know exactly where I was. That takes fucking skill and talent to do, and it’s so vivid I could virtually feel the heat and mugginess from the Kile’ archipelago setting, from the rocks and beaches to the massive ziggurat. If you like worldbuilding and lore, this might just be the best for that in a long time. Everything is built and crafted so well, and it gets top marks in that regard from me.
The story is strong, and while this is a slow burner, the journey gathers pace until it’s a maelstrom. Desperate for money and torn apart from his own brain bunnies, Jespar is recruited for a dangerous journey to cure one of the rulers of Kile, as the seeds of a deadly rebellion grow amongst the realm. It’s powerful and pungent, with scenes out of some horror film in stages. It’s a potent psychological journey from beginning to end, and the losses in this book are a punch to the gut.
This is quite a long book, but I give it a lot of credit in that I didn’t struggle with the length at all. It felt shorter than it is, which in this case, is a blessing. I didn’t want the book to end, but it was designed well enough that it didn’t overstay its welcome, something some books lack. It ramps up in tension until the explosive middle, and the brutal riot that follows really stays with you. This is a story about desperation, how a devastating money-fuelled world drives the common man to back monsters. It’s really powerful, especially when we think about how things are in the current world. It makes you think a lot.
The characters are the book’s strongest point for me, as it doesn’t matter how good your world design is, if you can’t write good characters fit to fill a noodle, there’s no point. The cast is diverse, well crafted and incredibly well written. My favourite character has to be Oonai, our broken bedridden ruler of Kile. We discover his character as the story goes on, and while he is an absolute monster, Nicolas did an incredible job in fleshing him out. I can’t help but love his character, even when I want to introduce him repeatedly to a baseball bat with a nail through it. Lysia, Kawu and Jespar all share the limelight, and their struggles kept me entwined with the book all the way through.
This book covers mental health in the way it should be: honest. We need more transparency about mental health, as it’s a growing pandemic in its own right, and DOTD pulls no punches on this regard. It’s powerful, intelligent and emotional. Jespar struggles with all the demons and it plays out in a brutal realism of depression. It’s so effective that it made me uncomfortable at times seeing his spiral, even though I understood why. Still, this is quite the potent book that covers difficult topics, so thought I’d mention the warning. As much as I love Jespar, the way he treats Lysia and Kawu at times in the book got grating. Not in a bad way and certainly not a slight on the writer, but it did make me uncomfortable at times. I would also say the big twist (which I will not mention) I do wish came to a conclusion in a more organic way. It’s done well enough, but I would have liked to see a bit more natural path to coming to it.
My final point is more me being a minor nitpicker than actual criticism, coming from somebody who adores writing lore. I love this series magic system, but while it does a good job in avoiding the “Character Vomit” syndrome of describing it in detail, I did find it overwhelming at times. It’s done in a natural and organic way, and I relate that explaining lore in any way is difficult without sounding like a textbook. It avoids many of the pitfalls, but it’s still there in some ways.
That’s how much I struggle to find any real criticism of Dreams of the Dying. Hopefully that whets your appetite, because this is the only book in 2020 I preordered. If that doesn’t excite you, I don’t know what will. It’s one of my favourite books of 2020, and while it’s not perfect, Nicolas can be damn proud of himself. He’s done an amazing job, and I’m a lifelong fan. Just not in a weird way. coughs When I stay up way past my bedtime because I want to keep turning the pages, it should tell you how much I enjoyed this novel.
I cannot wait for book two. And if the author is reading this, take the time and enjoy a good rest. You’ve earned it. Let’s face it, we both know you’ll be reading this book review. I know you well enough!
Final score: 9.0/10