“How much is a dream worth?”
It is the first line to of the first short story to appear in the Fantasy-Faction Anthology, the Dream-Taker’s Apprentice, by Mark Lawrence. From this first line I knew to expect a grim story to unfold and keep the reader in a dreary fog until either the story was finished, or our protagonist won.
But the story wasn’t as dreary as expected, but there seemed to be this stale feel to it, and I don’t mean the writing was bad or any aspect of the craft. The story was crafted in this way and it gives a wonderful feel to the world that is selling its dreams. As the story progresses it is the exceptional writing of the characters that give the world and the story its great colour.
The world is actually our own, when exactly isn’t clear, but it isn’t important. Some of the characters of the story will be familiar to you as legends jump up at you. Others are strangers that you will enjoy getting to know. Our protagonist is one of them. Speaking of the protagonist, Ham, I would like to give Lawrence a hand for creating a character that was perfectly fitted in a setting where dreams hold great interest for a select few and the world at large at the same time. I’ll let you read the short story to understand that part. Ham, however, does not have the ability to dream.
“Because when the gods made you, Ham, they left something out.”
Ham is a character of few wonders and fewer words. He has been excellently crafted to represent so much that is going on in this story’s world. His friend, owner, and master, Emptor, is a man after every dream of the land. He is a man with strong charisma and is able to use this charisma to purchase dreams for the purpose of providing his employer with his “need.” As you can imagine plundering a world its dreams would change it drastically, right? Well, we are in a short story, and that doesn’t exactly give us the most room to unfold and show us just what exactly dream selling would do to it. But Lawrence has solved that, Ham. We need nothing more than Ham’s lack of passion and barely noticeable rise of reaction to understand the current state of the world, or at least a glimpse of it.
Even the others are, like Emptor and Ikol, a mysterious character, show other parts of this world’s condition. What of those who have not lost dreams? Well, it is all too clear as to what type of people would be left intact. Ikol even mentions in a roundabout way what exactly has come to be as a consequence of their dream selling. I’ll let you read that and just ponder what they have done to themselves by selling dreams to their employer.
“Ikol frowned. ‘Some return. But with gold in their pockets and new dreams.'”
Lawrence is definitely experienced with not only creating a world, but showing us a world through his characters. Worldbuilding goes hand in hand with character development. Your characters are a product of the world they come from, and Lawrence has definitely mastered that.
A little on Mark Lawrence from the anthology. Once able to say “This isn’t rocket science…oh wait, it actually is,” he has found spare time from research and work in artificial intelligence to write such works as the Red Queen’s War and the Broken Empire trilogy, both of which are readily available at Amazon.
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