ARC Review: WHERE DREAMS DESCEND by Janella Angeles

I received an eARC from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. It has not affected my opinions.

Genre: Fantasy
Age Range: YA
Star Rating:
Series: yes - first book in duology


Book cover for WHERE DREAMS DESCEND: title in white below closing red curtains where a girl on a swing sits

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.

Synopsis taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.


Something about this book was just hard to get into. I can see why people might like it – and I’ve liked many flashy/show/con-men magic books before. A magic competition, a contestant against the world. Instead, I was slowly trudging through and trying not to doze off as I read this book. Maybe I should have DNF’d, but I wanted to give it a change to sweep me away, as I know WHERE DREAMS DESCEND has gained a fair bit of hype and garnered some glowing reviews.

This is a world where magic is for men only. Women can have it, and use it, but it’s looked down on when they use it for anything other than labour of being a show girl (read – anything other than male gratification). This is nothing new, and no, fiction doesn’t always have to be new and innovative (can fiction ever be?), but I am just bored with worlds where men can do something women can’t because… sexism?

The logic behind why people say women can’t do it is never explained. Sure, the real world is full of men putting barriers up to women on things, and yes I find it so frustrating (which might be part of the reason that I don’t like it in books, because I want to escape in books). However, there are reasons given in real life. Yes, they’re often laughable and stupid, but reasons are given. People will always try to justify why they are excluding others from power. They will play on a society’s deep need for security and betterment to explain why something can’t be given/allowed to others.

But it was never explained. Women are discouraged from magic, and most don’t use it. There are plenty of women angry about it in the book, but only the heroine is challenging the status quo. What is it that means the other women aren’t acting on their magic? What is the pervasive lie that means the general population sneers at women magicians and do the men tell themselves to justify their view that it’s for them alone? This is basic world building, but it was never addressed.

I’m not even 40% through and I’ve already gone on a min-twitter rant about this sort of sloppy world building. Back to the book.

Then there’s the character of Aaros, who is a pickpocket and tries to pinch Kallia’s stuff in minutes of her arriving, but she then turns around and offers him a job as her assistant like that? They’re suddenly relying on each other and good friends?

WHERE DREAMS DESCEND has three POVs. Kallia gets nearly all the page time, and I cannot work out why we needed the other two. There’s Daron Demarco (who’s name I had forgotten and so was using De as a placeholder until I could flick through and find it in the book to write properly) and the master, yet they add nothing.

Demarco is passive. He has a big tragic past, so he no longer is performing magic. It is clear he is the love interest from the first page with his sharp interactions with Kallia. They’re clearly going to perform together by the end, for romance blossoming. With this obvious, there’s no effort put into their relationship, no chemistry created. Then there’s also the fact that his tragic backstory is also obvious from his first chapter, and yet it’s treated as a mysterious reveal.

They weren’t even my main problems with Demarco’s POV, but rather the fact that he’s very passive. Sits and grits his teeth at the insults. Accuses Kallia of cheating and other things with flimsy evidence.

Next we have the sinister master, who is stalking Kallia. At least it’s not shown in any good light, but why do we need to see a stalker? He’s there for tension and threat, but that can be done without his POV. He and Demarco are hardly around narrating, so why not just remove and focus on her?

I think, if I hadn’t been so frustrated by the lack of world building around this central issue or without the two other POVs, I’d have really enjoyed it. But they were a barrier to me easily getting into the book, and then I never really clicked with it.

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