I’ve been doing a lot of reading about the history of Central Asia in the last few months. One book on the period in which 19th Century UK and Russia played their ‘Great Game’ (and with countless lives) in the battle for borders and supremacy led to another, then another and thence down the rabbit hole to Steven Paulsen’s latest!
Dream Weaver is set in Anatolia – roughly, Turkey – in 1405, not long after the death of Genghis Khan’s spiritual successor, Timur Lenk (Tamburlaine), slaughtered millions in his conquest of the region. The Ottoman Sultan is also dead, and Empire is on the verge of civil was as his sons battle for power.
So far, so historically accurate, but Paulsen weaves fantastical elements in and out of the great characters and cultural details of the time.
A young orphan boy, 16 year old Ali, begins to have disturbing, prophetic dreams – only to learn that those dreams aren’t foretelling but creating the future. He soon finds himself pursued by those who want to enslave his powers to their own dark magic in order to take over the empire. At the same time, Ali is trying to understand his distressing abilities, to harness them for better uses, including the rescue of a kidnapped girl named Rose.
Dream Weaver paints a colourful, detailed picture of the land and times. It moves at a rollicking pace, only occasionally pausing for breath, as Ali falls into and out of (but mostly into) trouble in his attempts to evade mercenaries, save Rose, and find the sage, Lumen, who perhaps can help him learn to control his dangerous dreaming.
Kind-hearted Ali is well drawn, though some of the supporting characters can lack the same depth. But the book gathers up numerous threads as it reaches the finale and leaves enough opening for further books to explore those characters, along with Ali’s heritage, his powers, and his future in a near-reality world where blood magic still has a role to play in the battles to come.