I put off starting L. L. McKinney’s follow-up to A BLADE SO BLACK for months because I was afraid the second in the series would be a disappointment. I should have been brave. A DREAM SO DARK continues Alice’s adventures without so much as a deep breath before jumping in, and it lives up to the previous adventurous thrills. Through this Young Adult fantasy we get a deeper world in Wonderland, more honest relationships for Alice and her family, and delicious complications of the heart and backgrounds between characters. This second novel in The Nightmare-Verse will leave readers both satisfied and yearning for more, which is coming in the next book, A Crown so Cursed.
The novel opens focused on family and friendship connections. We witness Alice’s mother berating her, grounding her, but then allowing her to leave with Courtney under emergency circumstances. We also meet Alice’s Nana Kingston, who gives her a box with a necklace. Any fantasy reader worth their salt pricks up their ears at that, obviously. The Alice/Addison love connection is continued, but there are also hints at other continuations in the romance department. And through unavoidable circumstances, Alice’s mother is finally let in on the heroic deeds of her daughter. What a relief! All this happens in the first 100 pages, and it flies by.
The world-building of Wonderland continues with the Eastern Gate, Dragons, an in-between the worlds space, and deepened character development of the villains. The hinted at love of Manga is included with Japanese elements and continued references to Sailor Moon. I appreciated that many aspects from the first book remained consistent even as details expanded and strengthened to include whole new worlds.
McKinney continues to display her skill at inner monologues and fight scenes. However, while the story begins with immediacy, the pacing for the first third feels sluggish at times. Thankfully, the new details about the characters and the reader’s affinity for Alice, not to mention her companions, keep interest. Towards the middle of the novel, a variety of staccato scenes reflect the urgent fighting and sudden flashes of memory in pivotal characters, and the pacing seems to settle into a smoother style. The diversity in characters doesn’t come off as forced, and the pansexuality represented rings true, especially for a teenage voice.
Overall, A DREAM SO DARK is a worthy continuation in The Nightmare-Verse trilogy. Questions from the first book are answered…some of them. Details about character backgrounds are revealed…some of them. And the ending feels satisfying without feeling finished. I, for one, am looking forward to the final book!