Book Review: The Dream Runner

Synopsis from Goodreads:

What if you could order a custom dream? Any kind. Dark and twisted, sweet, sensual, or redemptive. For the right price, a dream runner will deliver one to your doorstep.

Jesse Davison skipped town the week she turned sixteen, with nothing but the clothes on her back and her father’s vintage Indian Scout motorbike. She swore never to return to the town where in one night of tragedy she lost everything she ever loved.

When news of her estranged mother’s death calls her home, she hopes for some time to sort out ten years of tangled emotions. But Jesse’s job doesn’t exactly allow personal days. She’s been forced into service as a runner by the Dream Merchant to pay back a debt for her own dream of revenge, and there are always orders to fill.

Struggling to figure out her mysterious inheritance is more than enough to get a girl down, and things get even worse when the man Jesse loathes—ex-boyfriend Will Alderson—shows up. But she soon discovers the person she’s been running from might just be the one she should be running towards. Too bad she’s been dreaming of killing him for the past ten years.

This is the first installment of a series called The Dream Wars. It’s pretty short, weighing in at only 81 pages ( or 1036 Kindle locations.) It’s not a bad book. It’s a little rough around the edges, and could have benefited from more thorough editing. But on the whole, it was decently presented, and the technical problems I encountered were insignificant enough that they didn’t hamper my ability to enjoy the story.

The existence of a merchant who constructs custom dreams in exchange for an unnamed price is a fun topic to explore. As is the case with many modern fantasies, The Dream Runner is an intersection between magic and technology, between the natural and the supernatural. The Dream Merchant (described by the main character Jessie as female, though whether or not she actually is, or even if she has sex, is anyone’s guess) is an otherwordly entity, yet she relies on a young woman who rides a motorcycle for delivery of her product, and uses an ordinary cell phone to communicate.

A few times, Schafer really outdoes herself with vibrant descriptive detail. In particular, her account of Jessie’s interaction with the Dream Merchant is mysterious and beautiful.

Early on, we encounter a young woman named Mia, a recent widow and single mother. A victim of abuse, we assume when Jessie delivers a dream to her that its purpose is clear. But halfway through the book, there’s a startling twist, and we discover just how wrong we were.

The Dream Runner ultimately concludes with a satisfying cliffhanger, rooted in an unexpected surprise. It’s a great way to engage the audience and to encourage them to continue with the series.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your tastes), the entire book is dripping from head to toe with cheap supermarket romance. Implausible encounters with Marsh, the sexually charged real estate agent who handles Jessie’s property when she returns to her home town, and with Will, her former lover, made me think at times that the author might secretly be a horny teenager in disguise.

The characters were also a little under developed, and at times cliche. I did gain some valuable insight into who Jessie was and why I should care, but it just wasn’t enough. The people in the story were like colored in two-dimensional figures. They might’ve been better for having been colored in, but they were still only two-dimensional.

In the end, while I don’t regret having read the book and wouldn’t say that it was bad, I probably won’t continue with the series. As a short standalone book, I feel I got my money’s worth. But I just don’t see this one as a long term investment. If I were forced to transform my subjective feelings into an arbitrary quantitative value, I would probably give this one three out of five stars.

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3 thoughts on “Book Review: The Dream Runner”

  1. So the premise of this book sounded really interesting, and I was thankful that it wasn’t a teenager but an adult that the book decided to follow. I was a little put off by the need for editing and the shortness of the story, but hey, that doesn’t necessarily make it a bad story.
    Then I read the part about the cheap romance and two dimensional characters and that just… saddened me and put me off reading it altogether. Not saying that I would never read it if it somehow ever stumbled onto my hands, but I certainly won’t go out looking for it over another book.

    Thanks for the review!

    1. As far as length, we might be opposites 🙂 I’m a huge fan of (well written) short fiction.

      The book was edited decently enough (and I’m pretty picky about that) that I was able to get through it. Usually, issues with editing mean that I don’t continue reading. So my complaints about that were relatively minor. Hopefully, I didn’t make it sound worse than it was. The romance and the somewhat cliche characters were pretty off-putting, though.

      It’s too bad, because it was a really interesting idea, and there were moments where this book really shone. I still want to know what happens, but I just can’t bring myself to continue when there are so many other amazing books out there left to read. Ah well, time to move on to other things!

      1. I prefer longer books, but that’s not to say that I don’t enjoy short fiction as well. I generally find that I’m left wanting more.
        Perhaps the second one will be better, but I totally understand about putting other books first! It does sound like a really interesting concept though.

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