Genre: YA Fantasy
Publisher: Tor Teen
Release date: March 5 2013
Source: e-ARC from publisher
In a word: an inventive, magical mystery with awesome characters and lots of twists.
Selene: “Just because someone has the power to do something doesn’t mean they will. Sometimes people choose to be good even when they don’t have to.”
This isn’t the first time I’ve read a story about a school for magical folk (not by a longshot!), but despite its similarities to a certain beloved book, I found The Nightmare Affair to be a fun and exciting read from beginning to end. Mindee Arnett has a real gift for well-timed comedy and her pacing kept the pages turning for me. Best of all, I really loved these characters, who seem remarkably human even though most of them are not.
Sixteen-year-old Dusty is a Nightmare, a girl who must “feed” off of other people’s dreams in order to survive. Because of her magical nature, she attends Arkwell Academy, a school for magickind, as magical humans and creatures are called. A force called The Will directs her to feed off certain people, and one night she is drawn to the bedroom of Eli Booker, a very cute boy who Dusty knows from her old high school (before her magic kicked in). But this time something strange happens: Eli is dreaming about a girl lying dead in a cemetery, and Dusty recognizes her. When Eli notices Dusty in the dream and makes contact with her, Dusty realizes that something weird is going on. Even worse, she later finds out that the girl in the dream, Rosemary Vanholt, has actually turned up dead, exactly the way Eli dreamed it. Rosemary was a “Keeper,” someone whose life force had been used to hide a powerful spell.
After a visit to an oracle to find out why Dusty and Eli shared this particular dream, Dusty is told that she is a “dream-seer” and has the ability to see the future through dreams, and that Eli is now her exclusive dream partner. Forced together to try to help solve the mystery of Rosemary’s murder, Dusty and Eli must delve into the dangerous underbelly of their magical world to catch the person responsible for Rosemary’s murder.
Dusty was by far my favorite part of The Nightmare Affair. She is a very human character, despite her magical abilities. She worries about what to say to Paul, the cute boy who seems to like her, and stresses over her conflicted feelings for Eli. Arnett doesn’t leave out the typical drama that is a part of teenage life, like jealousies between girls and insecurities about what to say and how to act around the opposite sex. Dusty is wonderfully flawed and believable. Her spells never seem to go the way they are supposed to (shades of Ron Weasley?) and she is constantly breaking school rules and sneaking around at night, getting into one scrape or another. She also has a rebellious mother, and like any normal teen, wants to grow up to be her complete opposite. Another favorite character of mine was Selene, Dusty’s siren friend who indignantly covers up her beauty by dressing as a tomboy and forgoing makeup in “protest against the objectification of sirens.”
Dusty has two boys to keep her busy. She’s attracted to computer geek Paul, but she’s also drawn to Eli, her dream companion. Arnett keeps the romance light and also keeps the reader guessing as to which boy (if any) Dusty will end up with. But which characters are good and which are evil is a question you’ll be asking throughout most of the book. The author doesn’t give much away until the end, and she uses misdirection more than once before the mysteries of the murders are revealed.
I thought the world that Arnett created was really well done. Even though some similarities to Harry Potter bothered me (“mules” are the equivalent of “muggles”), some of her magical touches were unique. My favorite was the concept of “animation,” where inanimate objects become “animated” after spending too much time in the presence of magic. For example, Dusty’s computer starts to talk back to her, and even desk chairs move by themselves.
The only thing that slows down the story is the occasional information dump, as Dusty tries to catch the reader up to speed on the magical rules of Arnett’s world. Yes, it’s information we need, but there are subtler ways to go about it. This is one of those times when “show don’t tell” would have worked better for me.
The Nightmare Affair may feel familiar at times, but in the end it’s a story that will resonate with many readers. Tweens and teens in particular are sure to relate to the characters’ non-magical issues and may see themselves in the vulnerable but feisty Dusty.
This book is part of the Hobbitsies Debut Author Challenge.