Between: Did Not Finish

fantasy book reviews Between by Kerry SchaferBetween by Kerry Schafer

I hate to give a DNF review to Between by Kerry Schafer. I love finding new authors to read, the cover art is pretty (check out the subtle scales on her shoulder!), and the premise sounded great. Unfortunately, I only got about halfway through the book before setting it aside.

Schafer’s heroine, Vivian, has always had strange dreams, and now those dreams are affecting reality, for her and everyone around her. She’s an ER doctor, and one of her patients dies after an attack by dragons — dragons that come from the Between, which is the realm that lies between the waking world and the dreaming one.

Meanwhile, her mother (who lost her grip on sanity because she slipped too easily between the worlds) has gone missing from the institution in which she lives, and her grandfather has died and left her some strange objects and cryptic information. And the handsome man she just met seems to know her… from his dreams…

I liked Vivian when she was doing her job at the hospital, but after that I found that she didn’t grab me as a character. Schafer weighs the character down with trauma: she had to raise herself from an early age because of her mother’s mental illness; she has an abusive ex-boyfriend; she is gratuitously raped partway through the book; even the dent in her apartment door is from a previous tenant’s domestic abuse. Everything in Vivian’s life is sad, and this evokes sympathy but can be a bit overwhelming. And it doesn’t make up for other issues with her character; she seems to be pushed along by the plot rather than driving it.

The romance is also lackluster. We are given hints that Vivian and the male lead, Zee, have a romantic relationship in the dream world that will eventually be echoed in the real world too. I felt it was told more than shown, however, and their connection doesn’t really come through the page, especially since they don’t actually spend much “screen time” together. Zee’s chemistry with the villainess, Jehenna, is livelier.

The third and biggest issue is the plot itself. I typed and deleted several attempts to summarize the plot in this review, and I had a great deal of trouble trying to distill it down to a synopsis. It’s meandering and often confusing. Halfway through the book, I don’t feel like I have a grasp yet of the plot’s direction or what Vivian’s and Zee’s eventual goals will be. There’s a lot of chasing and a lot of shifting between worlds, and multiple keys and spheres to keep track of. It’s actually a pretty good approximation of dream logic, so I have to say Schafer did a good job of making the book feel like one of the most surreal dreams you’ve ever had.

However, as a structure for a novel, it didn’t really work for me. I was often confused by, or uninterested in, some of the plotlines and scenes. Finally I lost interest in the novel as a whole, and realized I didn’t want to read any more of Between. That said, the book might click better with a different reader. Kerry Schafer’s prose is well written and her imagination is vast, and I would definitely try anything else she chooses to write.

Vivian Maylor can’t sleep. Maybe it’s because she just broke up with her boyfriend and moved to a new town, or it could be the stress of her new job at the hospital. But perhaps it’s because her dreams have started to bleed through into her waking hours. All of her life Vivian has rejected her mother’s insane ramblings about Dreamworlds for concrete science and fact, until an emergency room patient ranting about dragons spontaneously combusts before her eyes — forcing Viv to consider the idea that her visions of mythical beasts might be real. And when a chance encounter leads her to a man she knows only from her dreams, Vivian finds herself falling into a world that seems strange and familiar all at once—a world where the line between dream and reality is hard to determine, and hard to control…

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KELLY LASITER is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

View all posts by Kelly Lasiter

2 comments

  1. I’ve had this difficulty before with books that try to approximate dreams. It’s too bad, because it does sound interesting.

    • And when it’s done just right, it can be something I really, really like. Some really good “trippy” scenes stick in my mind for ages. The one in Margaret Mahy’s The Changeover comes to mind.

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