A paranormal thriller by JP McLean (Dark Dreams Series, Book One)
Jane Walker is a young, strong and independent woman. She had an unfortunate childhood, though: her birth parents abandoned her, the first adoptive family she ended up with died in a tragic accident, the same happened to the second one. These two tragic events and the fact that Jane has a port-wine stain covering good part of her body and face compromised any further possibility for Jane to have an adoptive family, and she ended up in foster care.
During her childhood, and while in the system, she meets Sadie, a girl her age that immediately becomes her best friend. Sadie doesn’t think Jane is cursed and doesn’t care about Jane’s birthmark, but Jane is very conscious of it, she calls it her shame, and she wishes for it to disappear.
As if her life wasn’t already complicated enough, Jane is also affected by narcolepsy and when it happens, she is out cold, as good as dead. A bomb could hit her house and she wouldn’t notice. Sadie knows about it, and she is very protective of her friend. During these episodes Jane has weird dreams: they look like visions, a reel of events that happened in real life, but not to her. She doesn’t know the people she dreams of, she’s never met them, or, if she did, it was a brief, casual encounter with no meaning to her. These dreams are weird and usually leave Jane confused and more tired than before, but she accepts this condition as something she has no power over. Lately she is dreaming of Rebecca, a girl around her age, who seems to be under a lot of stress: she is narcoleptic too, she has weird dreams too, she attempted suicide to make them stop and was admitted to a psychiatric hospital. While there, she started to see a doctor who seemed to help a bit. Jane is keen on knowing more about him: if he helped Rebecca, he might be able to help her too. But she must be patient: she can’t control her dreams, simply deciding she will have one, nor she can control the length of them, or how much she can actually see, like names or places. She can only hope.
Jane is not only her bad dreams and her tragic childhood: as an adult, she works in a plant nursery and one day her boss asks her to deliver some flowers to this university professor’s office. No problem, says Jane. She enters Nathaniel Crawford’s office like she would have entered any other place. Only to come face to face with some pictures of her birthmarks framed and well visible on the wall, for everyone to see.
Jane feels threatened and violated. Who is this guy? Why does he have pictures of her birthmarks? Is he some kind of pervert? Is she in danger?
All Jane wants is to talk to Sadie about it, but Sadie is busy with her own life. During the day she works as a waitress at a local restaurant, but to make some extra cash she takes the odd gig from Cynthia, a mistress she has been working with for a while. For the past three years, Sadie has been seeing a certain Doctor Kristan as part of this job. Doctor Kristan is very keen, almost desperate, to buy her out of the market, but as much as Sadie thinks that would be nice, she also likes the extra cash. And Cynthia would not let her off the hook so easily. And while Sadie doesn’t want to talk about it to Jane – too ashamed by the nature of her job to ask for opinions – Jane is busy making sense of this Nathaniel Crawford that told her that her birthmarks might be something else rather than port-win stains, that there might be a remedy.
There is another character intersecting the story, even if his connection to the events is not straightforward. His name is Dr Rick Atkins, we know he has applied for a top managerial position in the hospital where he works and he’s waiting for an answer, he has a bigger brother, Mickey, the joy of their parents and his constant basis of comparison despite Mickey’s many mistakes. Rick is ready to show them all: he will get the promotion, prove he is not an idiot and finally fix a mistake he made 24 years ago. We won’t know what until the end of the book.
In the meanwhile, Jane accepts to be seen by a specialist, a friend of Nathaniel. She might help her to get rid of the birthmark.
Showing anyone her marks was a rare event, but Jane found she didn’t mind in this instance, even if Ariane was stretching the definition of plausible. She pushed the scarf into her hair and studied Ariane’s reaction.
Ariane moved closer.
“Fascinating,” she said. “May I?” She raised her hand. Jane shrugged. Nate stood to get a better look. Ariane’s touch was light, her fingers cool. “Exquisite.”
“That’s a first. People aren’t usually so complimentary.”
“Yes, I’m sure.”
“That’s puzzling,” Ariane said. “Because my theory is that your parents arranged for the mark to be placed on you. To protect you.”
“Protect me?” Jane’s laugh came out in a derisive sputter. “Then my marks must be defective. I could have used some of that mojo growing up. Took more than a few beatings. Don’t suppose there’s a return policy?”
Ariane hid a smile. “It can’t be easy living with those marks. But they’re intended to ward off death, not prevent bumps and scrapes.”
Sadie shifted to the edge of her seat. “What did you say?”
“The markings protect her life.”
Until the birthmarks start to disappear.
In this captivating urban fantasy, McLean superbly ties together past and present events, magical elements, real life threats, and the evergreen debate of how changing something in the past during a time-travel may have an unknown repercussion on the present as we know it.
The plot is brilliant: complex but well managed by the author, who knows where the characters are at any given time where, what they are doing and why. There isn’t a single event out of check. Veil after veil, the plot is slowly uncovered and exposed, but in a majestic non-expositional manner, meaning the deus-ex-machina represented by the narrator or writer is very well hidden throughout.
The prose is neat, clear, fresh and well-paced, never a dull description or a useless adjective. It builds up until the reader finds out who Rick Atkins is and what he wants. The only flaw, if we were to be very picky, is the tension build-up: McLean could have perhaps pushed even more and let the mystery unravel at the end with a big bang instead of a very loud pop.
It still works great anyway, making the book a “I-need-to-reach-the-end-quickly” read. We guarantee it will keep you with your nose stuck to the page until the very end.
All books by JP McLean are available for purchase at: https://jpmcleanauthor.com