Title: The Desert in the Dining Room
Author: Stuart W. Wells
Source: Borrowed book
The Desert in the Dining Room was written by the brother of a friend and so I thought I would take up the opportunity to read and review it. I do go into self-published books more warily than traditionally published ones simply because I have no idea what to expect (not a huge fan of surprises, me), but I was actually pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this book.
The story is set off by a father knocking in a wall in the dining room. This sets of a chain of events that his three children are pulled into as they sleep. Starting off with merely sharing a dream, things start to become more sinister is it become apparent that there are dark forces at work. Teaming up with a number of interesting characters, the children must work together to defeat a terrible evil.
It is a book which takes hold of the infinite possibilities that dreams give us and grounds them in a manner which excites the reader – children and adult alike. By keeping the number of characters and settings down, the magic of the book is able to settle into the over-arching story without being over-whelming and the plot is one that the reader can imagine themselves a part of.
I will say that things were a bit confusing to start off with. There were a number of different threads and I could not get my head around how the dream-world actually worked and what, indeed, it was. Once I got into the book, however, the threads started to intertwine and I managed to understand the movement through dreams and the magical logic of the book.
The mix of characters, in age, race and gender, was incredibly refreshing to read, especially in a book aimed at younger audiences. Mirka and Captain Burnaby were probably my favourites to read, especially their interactions with each other and other characters. The children were also very entertaining and I did like how they each had distinctive characteristics. I did struggle with their ages, however. Their reactions and actions varied throughout the book so that in some scenes, Harrison acted a lot older than I had initially imagine him while in others he acted younger. This made it quite difficult to picture them in the story. Katie did remain mostly consistent, especially in the second half of the book.
The villains of the novel were delightfully vicious. Yakub Beg, while starting off as cruel and unlikable became a somewhat sympathetic, if still evil, character as the book progressed. The real antagonists were evil throughout and gave off a distinct sense of danger and threat. This is especially made true by the phrase that grants them domination – while genial in nature it has much darker implications for all involved.
I really liked the setting of the book, although I am still hazy on where is actually is – it’s mentioned as being in China and India at different points in the book and, while the map at the beginning does help a little, I ended up just picturing it as a place without any specific location on this planet (a quick google would have answered all my geographical-based questions but I don’t like to look things up when I read)
The combination of two main settings – modern day England and the Taklamakan desert made for a really interesting read. While one was effectively boring, with very little magic and adventure, the other was filled with thrills and danger. It allowed the children to have a safe base (and the reader to have a breather) but also gave the dreams a bit more power than if they had just taken place in the UK as well.
Overall, The Desert in the Dining Room was a book that I looked forward to reading, no matter how tired I was feeling, and one with an original, thrilling story. While the writing could have been a little better in places, I thought the use of dreams was very unique and loved the concept of the Dreamwatch. I am skeptical that only one person in history had sacrificed themselves to save more than one child (as is the criteria of being an Officer of the Dreamwatch – Captain Burnaby is the first) and that all those who ever sacrificed themselves to save a child are men, there is a certain delight in imagining that there’s an army which specialises in defeating bad dreams. I think a large number of children would enjoy this book. It does end on a slight cliff-hanger and I’m not sure if there will be a sequel, so be warned, but otherwise The Desert in the Dining Room is a delightful and enjoyable read.