Famed for his chunky sci-fi novels, Peter F. Hamilton has dropped the middle initial to bring us The Queen of Dreams, the first volume of The Books of the Realms series. With a cover depicting a hooded, skeletal figure in wraparound shades and a squirrel armed with a sword, it’s not difficult to guess the type of story contained within, nor the age group that this book has been squarely aimed at.
While this is a book for children – its protagonists are two sisters not yet in their teens – it’s a story with an atmosphere and style that begs to be read aloud, ideally around a warm fire on a cold night. It has a certain charm to it that, once begun, makes it difficult to put down, even if you’re a quarter of a century older than the target demographic. Shared in this way, readers (and listeners) would be able to cheer the hero, hiss the villain and – crucially – finish each chapter with an insistent need to continue onto the next to find out what happens. The illustrations by Adam Stower go hand-in-hand with the text, complementing it much as Quentin Blake's did with Roald Dahl; his use of shading captures the mood of the scene perfectly, while the facial expressions truly bring the characters to life.
Adult fans of fantasy will no doubt see where Hamilton’s influences lie; there are dark riders, talking animals, portals into other worlds where our child heroes must battle the Dark Lord to end a terrible winter. Yet, the truth about such tropes is that they’ve resonated through the years across all ages, and Hamilton puts his own modern twist on things to prevent any lapse into cliché – his elves are particularly amusing, for instance.
So, while there may not be anything groundbreaking here, the younger readers for which it’s intended will find The Queen of Dreams an exciting and intelligent tale, one with a moral message that is simple yet never overstated. The book’s wit and charm spans the generations, making this a story to be shared and enjoyed by all ages, leaving the reader eager for the next instalment.
THE QUEEN OF DREAMS / AUTHOR: PETER HAMILTON / PUBLISHER: DOUBLEDAY CHILDREN'S / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW