When I first saw the title for this book, my heart skipped a beat. ‘Dream London’, what a brilliant idea! I’m a rabid Anglophile as well as a huge Science-Fiction/Fantasy fan. For me, the title alone sang with possibilities. Not to mention the gorgeous cover illustration by Joey Hi-Fi, who did the cover art for one of my favourite books ever, ‘Zoo City’ by Lauren Beukes. I was sold already. The opening chapters didn’t disappoint. Ballantyne has a gorgeously rich, descriptive writing style that carries you along effortlessly.
As the book went on however, I felt like I’d been set up. To be honest I felt cheated. On finishing the book I would have thrown it across the room in sheer frustration and annoyance – if I hadn’t been reading it on my iPad. I’ve waited a few days before writing this review because they say you should never do anything in anger but frankly, my opinion hasn’t mellowed much. If I were to pass the author in the street I may be tempted to confront him and screaming maniacally, “Really?? ANTS!! That’s the BEST you could come up with!!”
The scene of Dream London is initially perfectly set up, we’re introduced to a Tim Burtonesque landscape which you are at first willing to forgive it’s occasional cheesy deviation. After all, this is a place described as ‘dream’ London and the weird and the wacky are what we would expect, right? I admit when a character was first described as having eyes on his tongue, I had to clap my hand over my mouth to stop myself from crying out, “Beetlejuice!”.
Our main character, is Captain Jim Wedderburn. A ‘lovable’ rogue, a hustler and a flesh-peddler, looking after his girls in a corner of this other-London. We discover that the London landscape has been slowly and inexorably altered, The buildings grow taller, the suburbs shift and change as do the personalities of the people that inhabit them. It seems that although there are still ways to enter London, it’s almost impossible to leave.
Captain Jim is on the run from almost everybody, a filthy-mouthed little girl working for the mysterious Daddio; a love-lorn woman who believes Jim is her soul mate; Alan, the effeminate dandy looking to recruit him; the forces of Angel Tower as well as government agents from America and India hellbent on figuring out what has happened to London and to stop it from spreading.
The problem is that the plot goes nowhere. You are introduced to a cast of colourful characters, including Jim himself who never do much of anything and are impossible to care about. At every chapter, I had high hopes that something more would be revealed, that the threads would come together and paint a convincing narrative – but it just never happened.
At one point a character suggests, “Dream London isn’t a fantasy Jim, it’s science fiction.” Wow. You’re caught up again and you think, “Yes, this could be brilliant, go on! Tell me more!”
However, it’s shortly after this that I felt like I had been sold a ticket to the greatest ride on earth and then discovered that it was a kiddies train that went round and round, in pointless circles.
So I apologise in advance because this is really just my opinion but ‘Dream London’ gets a D for disappointment.