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Douglas Smith
The Hollow Boys: The Dream Rider Saga, Book 1

Young Adult; Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Horror; (Market)


Vanishing street kids. An ancient evil. The end of the world.

Our only hope? A hero who can't leave home.

At seventeen, Will Dreycott is a superhero…in his dreams. And in yours.

Eight years ago, Will's parents, shady dealers in ancient artifacts, disappeared on a jungle expedition. Will, the sole survivor, returned home with no memory of what happened, bringing a gift…and a curse.

The gift? Will can walk in our dreams. At night in Dream, Will hunts for criminals—and his parents. During the day, his Dream Rider comic, about a superhero no one knows is real, has made Will rich.

The curse? Severe agoraphobia. Will can't go outside. So he makes his home a skyscraper with everything he needs in life—everything but the freedom to walk the streets of his city.

Case, an orphan Will's age, survives on those streets with her younger brother, Fader. Survives because she too has a gift. She hears voices warning her of danger. And Fader? Well, he fades.

When street kids start vanishing, the Dream Rider joins the hunt. Will's search becomes personal when Case breaks into his tower to escape her own abduction. Fader isn't so lucky.

As Will and Case search for Fader and the missing kids, an unlikely romance grows between the boy with everything and the girl with nothing except the freedom Will longs for.

But as they push deeper into the mystery, they confront an ancient power feeding on these forgotten kids to restore itself. And once restored, no one in the world will be safe.

To defeat this creature, Will must do the impossible.

Go outside.

Indiana Jones meets Teen Titans in this fast-paced urban fantasy trilogy from the author described by Library Journal as "one of Canada's most original writers of speculative fiction."

This arresting series kickoff from Smith (The Wolf at the End of the World) grips from the start as it introduces its inventive milieu, its flawed but fantastically powered hero, its playful worldbuilding, and a host of tantalizing mysteries. In contemporary Toronto, billionaire 18-year-old Will Dreycott lives in a white tower, hunting for his missing parents, laboring over the impossibly successful comic book series, and, in secret, actually living his superhero creation’s life. As the real-life Dream Rider, Will is a costumed crusader in the dreamscape, searching for evidence of missing children, fleeing nightmarish emotions called Emojis, and eventually encountering creepy gray children he’ll learn are called “Hollow Boys”—missing Toronto street kids who, through elaborate witchery, have been stripped of their will and forced to take on this terrifying new form.

That’s just the start of Smith’s vigorously imaginative scenario. Complicating matters is Will’s agoraphobia. The boy who seems to have everything, including the wealth to make individual floors of his building museum-quality recreations of Paris and Egypt, can’t bring himself to breathe outside air. That’s a fascinating flaw, worthy of Marvel comics in the 1960s, a trait the deliciously detestable villains will of course exploit. Smith draws a telling contrast between Will and the broke-but-free life of Case, a street teen whom Will meets, develops a crush on, and vows to help—but can’t follow outside his tower.

Strange, often appealing creatures (like the delightful doogles) and characters fill out Will’s world, and the Hollow Boys, Maras, Emojis, and other original dangers have a perfectly calibrated creepiness—they’re deadly, and scenes of action and suspense thrum with tension, but the novel’s still always fun. Pacing and prose are tight despite the novel’s generous length; the dialogue’s crisp and engaging, and the reversals and revelations are cleverly plotted. Smith takes every advantage of his original dreamworld’s possibilities, building to a satisfying ending with plenty of mystery left to explore.

Takeaway: Thrilling YA fantasy whose billionaire teen superhero flies through dreams but can’t step outside.

Great for fans of: Maggie Stiefvater's The Dream Thieves, Robert Jackson Bennett.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A

Blueink Review (★ Starred review)

"An assured, confident novel... A must-read story for YA fantasy fans."

Kirkus Reviews

"A fun supernatural tale with well-developed characters and a touch of romance."

The Ottawa Review of Books

"Inventive, engaging, and boundless fun."