What Dreams We Had

This may have worked as a short story, but as a novel it didn’t deliver for me.

Book title

What Dreams We Had

Author

Phill Featherstone

Standalone or series

Standalone

First time reading this author?

Yes

Why I picked this

I’m not entirely sure. This was one where neither the cover nor the description particularly appealed to me, but I took the opportunity to read it when it came up on Pigeonhole.

Review copy or purchase

Thank you to the author, publishers Opitus Books and online book club Pigeonhole for access to read a pre-publication version of this book for free. This is an honest and voluntary review of the book as I read it, although other readers should be aware that the author has made changes prior to publication.

What it’s about

Alex, Elena, Joey and DJ are in a school band. They play at their end of term prom and are hoping to impress a footballer and his reality star fiancée who have been invited as guests of honour. It appears to go even better than they’d hoped when the footballer’s agent invites them to Italy to stay in an opulent rural estate and play at the footballer’s wedding reception, and DJ’s girlfriend Mia can come too even though she’s not in the band.

The visit comes with warnings. They’re to stay at a beautiful villa, but not to go near the big house which they’re warned is alarmed, and also stay away from the mysterious ‘magic’ woods.

Review

One of the joys of reading on The Pigeonhole is when an author joins in the comments. Phill Featherstone chose to do this, so I know it was his intention to give a sense of disjointed displacement to the time in Italy. The reader is meant to feel off kilter and unsure of what is really happening. Unfortunately, that effect was lost on me, and my over-riding sense was of just not caring.

This is partly because of the characters. Alex, the self-appointed leader of the band, is utterly unlikeable. Selfish to an almost cartoonish level, with no sign of consequence for his inability to consider that other people have feelings of any consequence or that they even exist outwith his opinion of them.

DJ is more ordinarily selfish, but seems to lack a personality of his own. Joey is a very weak character and seems to barely be part of the story at all apart from when he’s semi-stalking Mia. Elena and Mia are slightly more engaging, but even where there’s potential conflict it just seems to get forgotten within pages (including thefts and a potential attempted rape).

The weakness of the characters means there’s no sense of fear for them which there really needs to be to bring suspense to their experiences in the isolated villa.

The final ending is also a big ‘so what’. It feels like the ending was fixed without any sense of how to get there. I think the ending would only really have worked as a short story twist, or in the hands of an author who could keep the tension high all the way through. In this format and approach it’s just a damp squib.

Rating

Rating: 2 out of 5.
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