While much of this thoughtful tale is written with skill, building upon its mysteries and secrets while developing a gradual sense of foreboding, the flashback sequences used as a framing device sometimes prove more distracting than effective, often tearing away from the more intriguing conspiracy narrative at inopportune moments. Cicely’s own thread doesn’t achieve a full urgency, and her impact on the story proves negligible. Meanwhile, the hook of a coalition of alien merchant cultures that has secretly settled on Earth is intriguing, but an excess of unusual terminology and names proves rather unwieldy.
Valrand clearly brings large scale ideas and world building to the table, attentive to culture and architecture, plus strong and atmospheric description: “Then the creature appeared. It had four clawed feet and was shaped somewhat like a large dog, but it had no ears, and its bare grayish skin glistened.” Those virtues are undermined by stiff dialogue and lackluster characterization. At the same time, Valrand’s focus on the mysterious nature of Cicely’s dreams amidst Charles and Vivian’s assimilation into their captors’ society leaves the book feeling disjointed, not quite doing these momentous events justice.
Takeaway: This science fiction conspiracy thriller will appeal to readers looking for a slowly unfolding mystery involving aliens, fantastic tech, and plenty of twists.
Great for fans of: A.G. Riddle’s The Atlantis Gene, Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven.
Design and typography: B+
Marketing copy: B
Dramtes Enterprises, 423 pages, (paperback) $15.99,978-0-578-83813-7
(Reviewed: June, 2021)
Carlos Valrand’s ambitious science fiction thriller revolves around a British elementary school teacher who suddenly becomes afflicted with dreams of what appear to be glimpses from the lives of two strangers who become entangled in a grand-scale government conspiracy.
Cicely Denfeld’s quiet life as a teacher is turned upside down when she begins to have dreams that seem to be coming straight from the memories of two complete strangers, Charles Ryder and Vivian Venables, who are involved in a highly dangerous investigation that involves locating an operative in Cuba who possesses microfilm containing invaluable information.
As Denfeld’s dreams progress, she vicariously follows Ryder and Venables as they locate and infiltrate a massive subterranean installation in the high desert northeast of Los Angeles. The sprawling compound is inhabited by aliens, but that’s just the beginning of the duo’s jaw-dropping revelations. The aliens have been secretly working with the government for decades mining crystals used for space travel—but the real bombshell revelations deal with the aliens’ mind-blowing backstory, and how their secrets, if revealed to the public, would irrevocably change human civilization forever.
Denfeld seeks psychiatric help for her strange visions, but the therapy can’t stop the dreams from unfolding and escalating. Are the dreams wild figments of her imagination or are Ryder and Venables real people? If the two are, in fact, real, then Denfeld has more to worry about than just strange dreams.
Although there are a few minor issues with narrative clarity (particularly dealing with timeline—the exact era is murky at best), readers will likely overlook that, given the story’s many strengths. The characters are well-developed and engaging; the storyline is filled with laudable twists that keep readers guessing; and the pacing is pedal-to-the-metal. Finally, the conclusion is sure to satisfy science fiction aficionados.
Ultimately, this is an impressively intricate and relentlessly paced science fiction thriller that will have readers furiously turning pages until the end.
Also available as an ebook.