Dormia Book Review

Dormia by Jake Halpern and Peter Kujawinski

Alfonso has a very unique gift, or perhaps it is a curse. Alfonso can do things in his sleep. But this isn't sleepwalking, because unlike the average sleepwalker who wanders around the house or perhaps make a sandwich, Alfonso climbs trees, repairs clocks, sword fights, and grows plants. In his small town of World's End, Minnesota, this may be strange, but Alfonso soon learns that he is a descendant from a lost and mythical land called Dormia, a place where the citizens are their best when asleep and the last city of Dormia will die unless Alfonso and his strange group of travelers can deliver a Dormian Bloom.

The premise of the book is great. A race of people who have the ability to do anything in their sleep. With the opening of the book the reader is dragged in as we find Alfonso literally up a tree and he has no idea how he got up there and being rather clumsy while awake, isn't entirely sure how to get down. Despite the beginning being set in Minnesota, this is definitely a high fantasy novel, and frankly if Minnesota had been named something like Andalasia (Enchanted reference) then the reader would never have known that this is supposed to be Earth.

Written by two authors, this is a high-energy fast paced novel that is just begging for a sequel. The cast of characters are varied although not well fleshed out. After reading this 500 page tome, I am still unsure of the motivations for a few of these characters. Why would a man who is not Dormian, follow a kid and his Uncle halfway around the world for a fight that isn't his? Alnfonso fights for this kingdom that he has never visited, isn't sure is real, and doesn't intend to stay with. This made him feel more like a puppet than a warrior. The whole country itself has secreted itself away from the world, reminding me of a North Korean Prison. Not exactly inspiring.

I was also unimpressed with the so=called smarts of our main character. Most of the "puzzles" he needed to solve were extremely simple and then he completely ignores clues given to him for another puzzle, which after solving so many of these mind-benders, it seems strange that he couldn't or wouldn't solve this last one. Also, as is often the case in fantasy novels involving any kind of magic, the character always seems to learn some new skill just before he needs to use it, which I have always found suspect.

What this book really suffers from though is a bad case of repetition. The authors often felt it necessary to remind the reader of poems, conversations, history, and descriptions that the reader has already been made aware of, which makes this book about a hundred pages longer than it needed to be. I admit, I am a skipper when I run across information I already know and as a reader I feel like I am being talked down to. Like the authors are saying, "Remember that poem ten pages ago? Well we don't think you do so we are going to spell it out for you again just to be sure you get it."

Although the book wasn't written badly, I often found myself reading just because I wanted to finish it. I have a bas case of have-to-finish-a-book-itis. There is enough adventure and fun elements to hold the attention of middle grade readers, but I think some editing of repeated details and a little more attention to character development would have really made this book great.