Yesterday’s Dreams: Celtic myth, women’s empowerment

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsDanielle Ackley-McPhail Yesterday's DreamsYesterday’s Dreams by Danielle Ackley-McPhail

Danielle Ackley-McPhail’s novel Yesterday’s Dreams is an interesting mix of Celtic myth, women’s empowerment literature, and urban fantasy. The story is about Kara O’Keefe, a gifted violinist who, through unfortunate circumstance, is forced to pawn her most prized possession, her violin. In doing so, she comes across an unusual pawnshop, called Yesterday’s Dreams, with a caring and kind proprietor who gets Kara out of her jam. But unbeknownst to Kara, this pawnshop and its proprietor are unique in magical and mystical ways. This leads into an adventure that will have Kara relying on a dead man she has never met and fighting against an evil magician.

Ackley-McPhail knows her Celtic mythology. The story, though set in a modern period, is imbued with all the details and richness that readers expect from Celtic lore. Written at the slow pace common to Irish writers, Yesterday’s Dreams has that same combination of the ethereal and the mundane that we expect from writers from the isle of Eire. Music and story are very much a part of Irish life, from its most ancient myths and legends continuing down to the modern day such as the thought-provoking riffs we find in artists like U2 today and the tales of writers like Oscar Wilde, James Joyce or Seamus Heaney. Yesterday’s Dreams follows in this literary and musical tradition.

This story is also about women, their needs, feelings, and empowerment. Ackley-McPhail’s character of Kara is a sympathetic one, whose mundane, though difficult, struggles with supporting her family and the ever-present possibility of great loss are emotions we come to feel deeply. Perhaps Ackley-McPhail does belabor this part a bit, at least early in the novel, but we for sure understand all the motivations and feelings of Kara O’Keefe, and we feel deeply for her. Were the reader to take the magic out the story, this tale would be akin to those stories aimed at women that are full of the struggles and hardships unique to them. I think Yesterday’s Dreams will likely resonate more deeply with women than men. However, if you are a man predisposed to like the works of Irish literature, with their deep emotions, deep lows of suffering and extreme highs of joy, this novel might be of interest to you as well.

I felt the novel was a bit long (although in fairness, I read the revised and updated version in ARC format printed for Balticon 2006, so portions may have been cut later) and although I felt for Kara O’Keefe in her suffering, I felt that at times Ackley-McPhail belabored the point. Kara’s character is the quintessential suffering hero, an archetype that I rarely enjoy. That is not to say the character is not well-written, just that I find it hard as a reader to enjoy characters who suffer so much in order to become a hero. Of course, that suffering hero style of characterization can also heighten the enjoyment of the character’s later triumphs, so it can be used well.

I thoroughly enjoyed the magic system, as it evoked my own love of Celtic myth and legend and brought back fond memories of reading about the fairies in William Butler Yeats. However, the evil magician is rather hard to understand, and his motivations are not made clear, other than a lust for power.

The pacing is what makes Yesterday’s Dreams move from good to average. Kara’s story takes a long time to wind up and it just seemed to me that we were never going to get to the heart of the story. There is so much wind-up and characterization early on, it is hard to stay interested in the characters or the plot, such that when the plot finally gets moving it comes as a relief to the reader.

Women will find this novel more appealing than men, and although that sounds sexist, I mean it in the best sense. There are just some styles of writing that appeal to one gender more than another, and Ackley-McPhail’s is one of those. Those who like fairy stories or urban fantasy incorporating Celtic myth and legend may enjoy this book. Overall, Yesterday’s Dreams was unexciting to me. It is not poorly written, although its pacing could use a tune-up. It simply didn’t keep me interested in Kara O’Keefe’s story well enough. On the whole, the novel is of average calibre, neither bad nor good, just okay.

FanLit thanks John Ottinger III from Grasping for the Wind for contributing this guest review.


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JOHN OTTINGER III, a guest contributor to FanLit, runs the Science Fiction / Fantasy blog Grasping for the Wind. His reviews, interviews, and articles have appeared in Publisher’s Weekly, The Fix, Sacramento Book Review, Flashing Swords, Stephen Hunt’s SFCrowsnest, Thaumatrope, and at Tor.com.

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