The Daemon in Our Dreams
John F. Rooney
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Buy *The Daemon in Our Dreams* by John F. Rooneyonline

The Daemon in Our Dreams
John F. Rooney
Senneff House Publishers
292 pages
March 2007
rated 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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The Daemon in Our Dreams by John Rooney occurs during a cruise. Not just any cruise, mind you, but a guided tour that begins in Singapore and ends at the Taj Mahal, with stops throughout southeast Asia on the way. And this is no standard guided tour: the company sends out copies of E.M. Forster's A Passage to India to its future passengers, most of whom are retired with money to burn. It aims to be an intellectual exploration of West meets East; passengers are eased from the relatively recognizable world of orderly Singapore skyscrapers through a series of visits to countries like Malaysia and Sri Lanka into the chaos of India. Along the way, they hear about various issues southeast Asia faces and the origin of some of the more obvious cultural differences. For the tour guide and two of the passengers, however, the cruise becomes more and more surreal and scary as the frightening young man who haunts all of their dreams shows up in the streets of whatever city they visit.

Sounds like a neat premise, doesn't it? Unfortunately, the plot, characters, and writing style all fall far short of the reader's expectations.

First, the plot. While the whole idea is that the reader is trying to figure out why the man is stalking these people, and what he's going to do to them, the ending of the book is actually written in Chapter One (rather like a prologue). This eliminates any tension that could have developed in the book; the reader knows what's going to happen to each of the main characters already. While this format could work, if the author's focus was on the 'why' rather than the 'what', any such focus is distinctly lacking. Meanwhile, the characters never feel like people. Instead, they feel like very poorly drawn caricatures. There is no consistency to anyone's behavior. In fact, one of the oddest things about the book is that while two of the main characters are on the cruise with others (one has her husband, the other an old friend), they don't seem to get along with them. It's never explained why two old friends who apparently drive each other insane and constantly cut each other off, would choose to take a long cruise around southeast Asia together. Furthermore, people who have just met suddenly feel pure hatred for each other, which doesn't seem at all realistic. All of the characters in this book are unappealing; apparently Rooney isn't interested in gaining the reader's sympathy. They're not even bad people, though; none of these characters at all resemble anyone the reader would meet on the street. This leads to the reader being forever drawn out of the story, as she scoffs at another unrealistic character.

The lack of strong characters or plot could have been balanced by a strong writing style. While the author is obviously well-read, his turn of phrase is often so clunky and awkward that it leads the reader to question if Rooney is a native English speaker. For example, here is a randomly selected passage:

"After going back through the checkpoint, the group again took on its school of predators and parasites. The two groups were moving fast, the tourists going at a fast clip to avoid the natives, the indigenous symbiotic group hectoring, badging, imploring-the two women with babies, palms out, sometimes touching the tourists, sometimess tugging at their clothes, calling for attention. Men held their wallet pockets instinctively. Women embraced their pocketbooks."
The odd diction and sentence construction is, quite frankly, jarring. Rooney also has a habit of describing every character, no matter how minor, down to the smallest detail. At times, this is unintentionally humourous, as the reader learns that Miguel, a waiter, is "an agreeable blend of several different ethnic types." Most of the time, it's simply odd and annoying. But by far the worst errors in the writing style occur when Rooney approaches dialogue. For example, here is the tour guide, a proffesor with a PhD in Indian studies, talking at the dinner table:
"This trip's itinerary and titling were strokes of genius. It's a great Wagnerian opera with recurring leitmotifs. It has wonderful shadings and contrasts. It starts on a sprightly note, bustling go-go Singapore, then swings into Malaysia where you see some of the racial, religious, and ethnic conflicts that will be played out in our other stops. Malaysia's capital, Kuala Lumpur, like Singapore, is another boom town. Then a caesure in idyllic Penang in Malaysia. Another pleasant interlude in Thailand's resort town of Phuket."
When any characters talks, it feels either absurdly grandious or unrealistically crude; there isn't a middle ground of average. None of the book's dialogue feels like the way people actually talk.

Despite a good setting, The Daemon in Our Dreams is a weak book. Nothing about it feels real, so nothing about it touches the reader. The flat characters and meandering plot aren't redeemed by the atrocious writing style. The only people who might benefit from reading this book are those who need to learn how not to write.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at Eva Kay, 2007

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