I really enjoyed Lance Lee’s book about Sam and his father and a dancing elephant. Taking the idea of Orpheus entering the underworld to recover his love from the clutches of Hades, there are definite parallels between the myth here and Lee’s story, although knowledge of Orpheus is not necessary to enjoy this novel as Sam’s tale can stand independently of this.
Sam and his father, John are very much in the doldrums when the book begins, having lost respectively their mother and wife, Madelyn and are living in a sort of stasis of greyness, dominated by mundane routine, something which has developed now that they no longer have her enlivening presence. They are trapped in their unhappiness which results in them having vivid nightmares most nights about surreal beings who wish them harm.
Sam wants to see his mother again and embarks on a journey to find her and bring her home along with John and a dancing elephant.
What I liked about the book is that whilst it is an imaginative odyssey about characters on a quest, it can be read as an allegory too – the dangers that our protagonists face are embodiments of negativity that must be conquered in order to move forward and it is clear that these can be relentless in their onslaught and can look and feel the same as things with which one believes to have previously dealt. However, this also has the danger of becoming repetitive with the characters in one precarious situation before finding themselves in another leading to another, etc. Lee tries hard to combat this in a reader with his evocation of enemies and settings.
In the threatening, bewildering world that Sam and John have to traverse in order to find Madelyn, there is a lot of uncertainty and challenge along the way. Sam and John are constantly placed in peril and conflict, from constructs that are physical and others that are extensions of the imagination, all of which are creatively written by Lee. The path to Dread City is bizarre but, within this, Lee is careful to provide parallels between the imagined world and the real one that Sam and John previously inhabited. Whilst Sam and John are in a surreal world but tests of their resolve and courage are very much of our world and this will help readers to identify with this unusual book.
It is not often nowadays that I add to reviews because it takes up time I don’t have but in Lance Lee’s case, I feel like something more needs to be said. He didn’t like my luke warm response to his book but it was how I felt about it. I didn’t love it but I didn’t hate it. I recognised that it was well-written and that it was imaginative. It reminded me of The Subtle Knife in its stretching imaginative boundaries but, as I felt with that book, it was alright and certainly not the best in Pullman’s trilogy. It was worth reading and therefore, worthy of three stars according to Reedsy’s rating system. If I’m honest, I found it entertaining for the most part but also, hard-going in places and a bit samey. I think my review is a fair reflection of what I got out of it. Unfortunately, others read it before me and raved about it and I am pleased for them and him that they enjoyed it to such a great extent. But I didn’t and I expressed my opinion with equanimity and tact. Well, I think I did.
Do you think that’s why he spelled my name incorrectly?
This review was first published on Reedsy Discovery where I was privileged to read it as an ARC. This review is a true and unbiased representation of my opinion of the book, unfortunately for Lance Lee.