Title: Where Dreams Descend
Author: Janella Angeles
Genre: Young Adult/Fantasy
Version: ebook – ARC
Page Count: 464
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Add To-Read on: GoodReads, StoryGraph
Notable Notables: Diverse cast of characters, vivid descriptions, dark romance
Recommended Readers: Magician enthusiasts and anyone else who’s tired of all the bland, boring romances being put out there
Thank you to NetGalley for providing this ARC and to Wednesday Books for asking me to participate in the Blog Tour in exchange for an honest review.
In a city covered in ice and ruin, a group of magicians face off in a daring game of magical feats to find the next headliner of the Conquering Circus, only to find themselves under the threat of an unseen danger striking behind the scenes.
As each act becomes more and more risky and the number of missing magicians piles up, three are forced to reckon with their secrets before the darkness comes for them next.
The Star: Kallia, a powerful showgirl out to prove she’s the best no matter the cost
The Master: Jack, the enigmatic keeper of the club, and more than one lie told
The Magician: Demarco, the brooding judge with a dark past he can no longer hide
Where Dreams Descend is the startling and romantic first book in Janella Angeles’ debut Kingdom of Cards fantasy duology where magic is both celebrated and feared, and no heart is left unscathed.
It’s been a hot minute since I’ve picked up a book and felt an instant connection on the first page—yes, the very first page. Where Dreams Descend by Janella Angeles is that book.
There’s magic in the writing that Angeles produces, which is beyond appropriate because the book is about magic. It’s about showmanship, ambition, and finding the place where you belong and the life you deserve for yourself.
I enjoyed all the main characters and loved the individual drives they all had. Kallia, I identified with pretty much on sight. She’s the type of character full of sharp edges and compassion both that I gravitate to. She’s bold, chases what she wants, and does it with uncompromising flair as a showgirl turned magician. I want to say she’s also the first female POC character I’ve seen depicted like this who’s also a main character, not a side one.
She has a lot of separate forces working against her, including the world’s sexism against women performing as magicians. Unlike the last book I read, the portrayal of misogynistic views didn’t drive me totally crazy or feel immature. Basic, sure, but it was baked into the story from the beginning, making it feel organic and truly meaningful to the world and its characters. It wasn’t just a tack-on for the “yay! girl power!” feminist checkbox so many stories in YA want to mark off and then move on.
I also liked Daron Demarco, a judge of the magical competition who has already retired from being a magician after a tragic last act. He’s broody but with a goal, and I can appreciate that. His backstory is largely tied to his family, and I am interested to find out the full truth of what happened to his sister Eva and him by proxy.
That being said, it’s Jack, the master, who repeatedly stole the show—sorry, Kallia. From the second he was introduced, I knew I would be hooked on this story just for him. Everything else I liked was just a bonus. There’s so much I could talk about with him—his magic powers, his aesthetic, his existence, his obsession with Kallia—but it could wade into spoiler territory too fast. Just know that he’s my problematic fave, and I love him.
In fact, it’s because of Jack that I did not subscribe to the romance between Daron and Kallia at all. It made Act III drag a bit because I just didn’t feel any fire or real appeal between them. I was much more interested in Daron figuring out what had happened to his sister, which is sadly forgotten about once Kallia made his head turn. (He admits this to himself, though, and it’s this self-awareness that makes him a tolerable love interest, unlike Mal in the Grishaverse books and other of his ilk.)
What also didn’t help in their favor was how Jack usually made a follow-up appearance, and his interactions with Kallia sizzled in comparison to the lukewarm experience I had with any romantic overtures Kallia and Daron made to each other. Luckily, the romance isn’t intolerable because, as I said, neither Daron or Kallia are; I just know who I’m rooting for, and it’s the tall, formidable, dark-haired magician full of secrets, power, and desire. (I know it won’t happen, and that’s okay. Just the way it goes.) The more I learn about Jack, the more intrigued I get. I know my brand, and he is it!
Despite the fun I had with this book, it wasn’t perfect, though still moderately strong for a debut. I will say: for anyone who’s excited about the competition element of the book, don’t be. None of the other competitors besides Kallia actually matter, so it’s really less of a competition and more of Kallia learning to experiment with magic, spread her wings, and find her limits. You’ll likely want to give the other competitors and judges a wedgie and shove them in a locker. Together.
Basically, don’t expect this to be a Hunger Games situation or even a Night Circus situation. Kallia has no competitors—at least, not in this particular game. In fact, the summary pretty much gives you the short list of characters who truly matter to the story. To me, this is perfectly fine. Not every book should be like The Hunger Games or The Night Circus, no matter how easy it seems to compare them.
There’s a nail-biting mystery going on the whole time, however. Angeles is artful in building suspense and timing all the creative ways the characters become unbalanced. Every time you’re lulled into a false sense of security, something newly unnerving or alarming happens, with you and the characters left questioning their perceptions on reality. Given the type of illusion magic emphasized throughout the book, this was masterfully done.
As a result, the pacing overall was very enjoyable. With the exception of Act III, I felt that every time things seemed to slow down, something happened to speed things up or catch your full attention.
How compelling the mystery is made me all the more frustrated that I was yet to have any real answers by the book’s end. The vague and terrifying forces behind Glorian, the terror and secrets behind the mirrors, the disappearances, the bizarre rituals, the reason Jack left it all behind—I have no idea what any of it means or what’s going on. Obviously, all this and more will be answered in the next book, and I’m beyond eager to read it, but I can’t help but feel like Where Dreams Descend relied a little too much on a romance I didn’t believe in and a competition that had no real competitive element instead of this other incredible force happening behind the scenes. I just need more of it, and I’m impatient.
All I know for certain is that, until I can get my hands on the next book, I’m going to think twice before looking too long in the mirror and trusting the reflection I see there.