A place where dreams are borne

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Ge­orge Wil­liams

NEW Zealand au­thor El­iz­a­beth Knox has writ­ten a strik­ingly orig­i­nal fan­tasy tale. In fact, she has writ­ten two be­cause The In­vis­i­ble Road is the re- release in a sin­gle book of her nov­els Dreamhunter and Dreamquake .

The story is set in what could eas­ily be early 20th- cen­tury Aus­tralia or NZ, but with a mighty twist. Her world con­tains the mys­te­ri­ous Place which only a few, known as Dreamhunters, can en­ter. They do so to catch dreams, which are broad­cast to sleep­ers in the real world. Dreams are sold to hos­pi­tals to heal the sick, to dream palaces for en­ter­tain­ment or to in­di­vid­u­als for ne­far­i­ous pur­poses at which Knox only hints.

The au­thor does a first- rate job of imag­in­ing the changes brought about by this phe­nom­e­non, in­clud­ing how the use of dreams and night­mares re­shapes cul­ture, pol­i­tics and the econ­omy. This pro­vides a strong back­drop to other themes and many se­crets, in­clud­ing the ques­tion of whose dreams they are in the first place.

Knox’s style re­sem­bles that of Philip Pull­man in his lauded His Dark Ma­te­ri­als tril­ogy. Th­ese nov­els are also set in a world that, ex­cept for its mag­i­cal dif­fer­ences, re­sem­bles our own. Some­times less can prove to be more, and in both cases the spare use of magic and other fan­tasy de­vices serves to bet­ter high­light the cen­tral story.

Pull­man is rightly re­garded as one of the best mod­ern fan­tasy writ­ers. Knox de­serves to be equally well re­garded. Her novel is of a sim­i­lar qual­ity and imag­i­na­tive force.

What sets them apart is how their work is read­ily ac­ces­si­ble to a broad range of ages. The In­vis­i­ble Road may be full of dark themes and oc­ca­sion­ally con­tain the stuff of night­mares, but it is a great read for high school­ers through to adults.

Fan­tasy nov­els of­ten fo­cus on a young hero set the task of sav­ing the world from a seem­ingly in­vin­ci­ble evil power. The In­vis­i­ble Road is dif­fer­ent. Al­though it is a com­ing- of- age story, there is no evil to be op­posed and the vil­lains have shades of grey. The threats are ones of over­ween­ing po­lit­i­cal am­bi­tion and the ex­ploita­tion of vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple. This proves an ad­van­tage of the work. It is re­fresh­ing to see fan­tasy writ­ing tackling themes closer to home.

The novel cen­tres on the gov­ern­ment’s mis­use of dreams taken from the Place. It seems politi­cians have seen the pos­si­bil­i­ties of us­ing dreams to ma­nip­u­late the pop­u­la­tion and to en­sure com­pli­ance. This gives the book a sur­pris­ing po­lit­i­cal flavour usu­ally ab­sent from fan­tasy writ­ing.

The qual­ity of this book is not only borne out in its vivid re­al­i­sa­tion of a world in which dreams can be cap­tured and sold. The tale is, in fact, at its strong­est in deal­ing with the re­la­tion­ships of the key char­ac­ters, Laura and Rose. The two teenagers are drawn with an in­tegrity and hon­esty rarely seen in the fan­tasy genre. Their re­la­tion­ship is beau­ti­fully ren­dered in cap­tur­ing a grow­ing dis­tance be­tween them as they de­part child­hood. This forms the bedrock of the book. It

is a foun­da­tion of­ten ab­sent in other fan­tasy nov­els that aim high in their imag­i­na­tive out­put but achieve far less in terms of char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion.

My only quib­bles are mi­nor. Al­though The In­vis­i­ble Road is pre­sented as an in­te­grated, sin­gle work, the tran­si­tion be­tween the two ear­lier books is not seam­less. While one chap­ter flows into the next, it is ob­vi­ous where the ear­lier books were sep­a­rated when the reader is treated to an awk­ward re­cap­ping of the story.

De­spite this, the story does work bet­ter as a sin­gle vol­ume. The first book left many threads dan­gling, and what could have been an un­sat­is­fy­ing end­ing and a frus­trat­ing wait for the sec­ond in­stal­ment is in­stead merely an ex­cel­lent build­ing block for a sat­is­fy­ing con­clu­sion. Knox has emerged as an im­por­tant tal­ent in the field of fan­tasy writ­ing. It is rare to find a fan­tasy novel that so well com­bines a co­her­ent imag­i­na­tive vi­sion with hon­est char­ac­ters of depth and sub­stance. If you have not read the ear­lier in­car­na­tions of this book, make sure you read this one. It is the best fan­tasy novel I have read this year.

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